Now that the McCracken County football team is allowed to wear shoulder pads during practice, head coach Jack Haskins has begun to get a feel for what his young team has to offer.
The Mustangs put on the pads for the first time this summer on Monday, and are beginning to mix in some contact drills during their practice.
"Now you can actually play the game," Haskins said in regards to what adding pads in practice can do. "Otherwise it's all repetition and assignment drills. Now we can get an idea of what kids can do things right on offense and defense."
With a young team, this final month before the season begins will be an important one for McCracken. It has 12 seniors on its roster, a low number for a 6A school.
Eight of 11 defensive starters have graduated off last year's team, which finished 9-3 in the school's first year after the consolidation of Lone Oak, Reidland and Heath. In all, 19 players on last year's roster have graduated.
While many skill position players return - including quarterback Zyaire Hughes and wide receiver/safety Rasheed Jones - just three returning starters from the line are back this season.
"We're trying to build some depth," Haskins said. "It's not there yet, but that's what summer is for."
Not only will the defense be revamped in personnel, but also in style, as Haskins has brought in a new defensive coordinator.
"We're mixing in all this new stuff and just trying to get better," Jones said.
Jones added that the chemistry is much better among the team than it was this time last year, due to the squad being together for a full year. With the players knowing each other a lot better, Jones said the whole team now respects one another.
The Mustangs will play their first game of the year Aug. 23 against Paducah Tilghman, but Haskins said it will be a work in progress early on, just as it was last season.
"I think we will get better as the season goes on, more than normal even," he said. "We'll play some sophomores and a lot of juniors so as they gain more experience we will start looking better."
Last year McCracken County lost its first two games of the year by one point each before reeling off nine straight wins into the second round of the postseason.