VALDOSTA -- The new head Wildcat has made great strides with Valdosta High football.

Rick Darlington's fingerprints are all over the Wildcat football program now. The new offense, the new defense, the new practice jerseys, the facelift the locker room has undergone. And the excitement and the intensity in the players, almost from the beginning of practice to the end.

Darlington and his staff have taken a program that has been excellent for decades, and added to it. Many things remain the same as they've been for years and years. But other things have changed.

Spring practice began Monday, and Darlington and his staff have spent the past week giving the Wildcats a new identity on offense and a new one on defense.

After the first five days, Darlington is pleased with his new team's progress.

"We've come a long way on offense and defense. But we've also come a long way as far as unity, togetherness, brotherhood, and family atmosphere go," Darlington said. "It's a real good atmosphere. The kids are being positive, they're enjoying things. They're enthusiastic, and intense. If you have that atmosphere, you're going to get better."

Darlington was also impressed with the progress the Wildcats have made with new systems on both sides of the ball.

"They've never done anything like (the flexbone) here before," Darlington said. "I think we have the kids to run this offense very well.

"The defense is not bad. We've had some injuries there, but we're making progress. They're running well, they're understanding what we're trying to do. They're hitting people. The defense they ran before here was very effective, but it wasn't the same style of defense. They tried to blow things into the middle and turn things in, a lot of pressure. We're like Miami's 4-3, making things bounce to the sidelines, then running them down. But the kids do have good fundamentals, from the previous coaching staff."

Valdosta culminated Week 1 of spring with a scrimmage Friday night at Cleveland Field. The younger teams played early in the scrimmage, then the varsity took the field, with the first-team offense and the first-team defense squaring off for most of the scrimmage.

"It was a good night. We're getting better," Darlington said. "I thought we ran and hit hard on defense."

The Wildcats have had to go parts of the spring without a full team. Some players have missed time because of injury, while others have been playing baseball or soccer.

"That's hard, being without four or five starters on defense," Darlington said. "None of the three starting linebackers were here (for the scrimmage)."

Spring practice resumes for the Wildcats on Monday, and goes through Thursday. They'll take Friday off, to encourage more people to attend the Valdosta-Lowndes baseball game Friday night, then we'll end with our Black-and-Gold scrimmage Saturday night at Cleveland Field (at 8 p.m.)."

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