21Bruce McClelland Terry SanfordThe new combination 3-A/4-A Patriotic Athletic Conference has created a headache for the league’s football coaches. They’ve got one less non-conference game to play with, which means one less game to evaluate players before making final decisions on starting lineups.

One game might not sound like a big deal, but listen to Terry Sanford first-year coach Bruce McClelland explain it. 

“That can mean 30 to 40 snaps easy for a kid,” McClelland said. “If I’m evaluating someone on 80 snaps, I’m comfortable.”

The trick for McClelland and his staff was to figure where to get extra snaps to replace the lost game.

Terry Sanford added an extra preseason scrimmage with St. Pauls and additional  preseason 7-on-7 passing skeletons.

Once full contact began during August practice, McClelland had the practice sessions videotaped so player performances could be evaluated from that film too.

“The only thing we haven’t evaluated is that biggame atmosphere and rivalry, how they are going to play,” he said.

South View coach Rodney Brewington said there’s another reason lineups need to be determined as soon as possible this season. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association will use MaxPreps rankings when determining seeding for this year’s football playoffs.

The rankings are based on a complex formula. “With strength of schedule being a factor, you want to be in a position where you are making a strong showing and scoring points,” Brewington said.

Like McClelland, Brewington relied heavily on watching practice. South View also got in extra scrimmage time at Campbell University and added extra 7-on-7s.

Brewington said regular attendance by Tiger players at summer workouts also helped. “When you go through the whole summer, you have an idea of who’s who,” he said.

The process of evaluating talent was complicated at Cape Fear this fall when a rash of injuries at linebacker forced coach Jake Thomas to make a number of unplanned adjustments.

“Typically if conference is further down the road you can rest those guys so they can heal for conference play,” Thomas said.

Thomas had to promote reserves to starting roles and elevate players originally destined for the junior varsity to the varsity.

“We’ve got six sophomores starting now,” he said. “When you’ve got sophomores and young guys in there, they are going to make some mistakes.

“But they’ve got the tools to work with and you understand there will be a learning curve.”

Thomas said Cape Fear continues to plug leaks and put its puzzle together. “Hopefully you will coach them up,” he said.

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