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Pine Tree Pirates working overtime to improve game

By Jimmy Carter
Aug. 16, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Pine Tree coach Derek Fitzhenry had to turn some of his players away from voluntary workouts this summer.

The Pirates participated in S.W.A.P., short for Speed, Weights and Agility Program, over the summer, workouts that led to some players on Fitzhenry's 52-man roster wanting to push themselves too much.

"They weren't just showing up once or twice a week," Fitzhenry said. "Sometimes we were having to tell them to go home because they were showing up for too many sessions. We had 95, 96 percent of our athletes that participated and they were consistent with it.

"Absences and being tardy have been issues before. That's been taken care of."

Fitzhenry began his second fall practice at Pine Tree on Aug. 6 and has seen the benefit of the rigorous summer workout program in the first two weeks of fall camp as he tries to ready his team for the Aug. 31 opener at Van and break a string of three consecutive 1-9 seasons.

"We let them know that this is how you're going to win," Fitzhenry said. "This is how you're going to change the perception of Pine Tree football. By investing the time. Then you'll start believing you can win. They're buying into it. Now they see the gains they've made."

Fitzhenry will be looking for starters tonight at Pittsburg's Pirate Stadium.

His Pirates will participate in their first scrimmage this fall, a three-team round robin with Pittsburg and Mount Vernon at 6 p.m.

While players like senior quarterback Jake Oden and sophomore receiver Mason Hays have established themselves in fall practice, 40 returning lettermen are competing for starting positions across the board heading into the scrimmage.

"We're looking for some spots where some guys are going to have to step up and become starters," Fitzhenry said. "We're looking at just about every spot. Because there's places where starters are coming back, but there's good competition every place that we have.

"We're better. We're more athletic and physical. I think we'll have an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot if we do the little things."

Fitzhenry hopes the offseason has better prepared the Pirates for a run through District 14-4A this fall.

He's also counting on progression in the passing game from Oden, who ran for 850 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, but threw for just 332 yards. Even with a one-dimensional offense, Pine Tree finished third in its district in total offense last season.

"Jake's really polished," Fitzhenry said. "He's throwing the ball well and executing the spread option really well. This year I think we'll be able to throw the ball a lot better. He's just a smart player. He benefited from 10 starts last year."

The addition of Hays, a 6-foot, 165-pounder, should help the passing attack complement Oden and senior running back Victor Hawkins' running game.

"Mason's pretty special," Fitzhenry said. "He's separated himself because he's catching the ball consistently and executing his route running. He's a nice looking kid."

Pine Tree will run 15 plays on offense against Pittsburg, then 15 plays of defense against Mount Vernon. The Pirates will also play a quarter against each team later in the scrimmage, one that Fitzhenry hasn't gameplanned for.

"The most important thing is where we're at fundamentally," Fitzhenry said. "We're not trying to scheme anybody. We're not sitting down to get a gameplan. We're just looking for fundamentals and starters."

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