VALDOSTA –– After a lackluster return to the practice field Monday, the Valdosta Wildcats found their edge over the last two days.

Beneath the unforgiving South Georgia heat, the ‘Cats looked sharp and physical, despite the absence of full pads. 

At the conclusion of practice Wednesday, Valdosta head coach Alan Rodemaker told his team what it already knew –– it’s not going to get any easier from here.

“Everybody wants to show up in August,” Rodemaker said smiling. “Everybody wants to show up when them lights come on and popcorn starts popping. They want to show up, but football is still a tough game. The offseason’s got to be tough or you won’t have a very good football team. It’s no different from anywhere else in life. Most humans think that other people have it easier than them, and they don’t. Everybody’s got their own issues. Everybody’s got family situations to deal with. Everybody’s got something hard they’ve got to do to achieve something great.

“I think our kids forget that. I remember when I was a kid, I felt like some people just had it made. I don’t think anybody has it made –– everybody’s got to work for what they get. The commitment they’ve got to make in football is gonna pale in comparison to what they’ll have to make in a marriage one day or in a job or in college one day. There’s no better teacher than high school football for young people.”

When the ‘Cats hit the practice field on Monday, Rodemaker admitted the 11-day layoff was tough on his staff and his players after a considerable offseason slate of practices, 7-on-7 tournaments and organized team activities in various locations.

Now that the fireworks and scent of Independence Day barbecue have faded, the ‘Cats have their sights set on blasting through the remainder of their summer schedule. Rodemaker told his team after practice that he had a hard time sleeping after Monday’s lackluster effort. However, the attitude and attention to detail seen during Tuesday and Wednesday’s practices “have made it fun coaching this team.”

“The dead week was heck on everybody –– players and coaches, I think,” Valdosta head coach Alan Rodemaker said. “I really feel better about this team the last couple days now. It’s still early-July, but we’re less than a month away from our scrimmage. I’m starting to feel better about them.

“The attitude (was different). Everybody’s dreading Monday. We were off for 11 days and it’s tough coming back. Once they got acclimated a little bit, they got after it. Our coaches are really preaching attitude and the way they go about their business. I think our kids will respond.”

Rodemaker also gave his thoughts on star Jaheim Bell’s somewhat surprising pivot from the University of Florida. Bell was not at Wednesday’s practice, but Rodemaker believes the decision to decommit was the right move after Bell quickly made a pact with the Gators on April 13.

More than anything else, Rodemaker feels Bell should focus his attention toward his senior season with the ‘Cats.

“I think it was an emotional decision from the get-go,” Rodemaker said of Bell’s decommitment from the Gators. “I think he’s just righting the ship. He just didn’t feel great about it. Now, he may still go there, but I think he needs to concentrate on being a Wildcat right now. That other stuff will take care of itself.”

In terms of the rest of the summer, the ‘Cats are in Cairo today for a 7-on-7 tournament followed by a weekend off. 

Valdosta returns to the practice field July 17-18 to host OTAs and will host another session July 23-24.

From there, Valdosta will begin its collision course toward their preseason scrimmage on the road at Glynn Academy on Aug. 16.

“I think there are 10 or 12 teams that are gonna be there –– we’re gonna compete until about lunch,” Rodemaker said of today’s 7-on-7 at Cairo. “We’re not really keeping score, but it’s giving us a chance to work reps against other schools. I’m excited about that. It’s always good to go against somebody else so we’ll go there and get four or five hours of work in. After that last OTA, we’ll have acclimation the next day and then we put on pads Aug. 1. So, it’s here. It’s here.”

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