Meridian Star

Sports

July 11, 2014

Offseason workouts a priority for Tornadoes

PHILADELPHIA — There's a standing tradition at Philadelphia High School where members of the senior class decide on a certain number of days in which players must attend offseason workouts in order to obtain a jersey in the fall.

And the 2014 Philadelphia senior class has set the bar higher than ever before: To be a member of the 2014 Tornado football team, you must attend at least 20 offseason workout days.

"Anything less than 20 workouts means that you aren't trying," senior outside linebacker KJ Peebles said. "Anybody can make 17 or 18, but to make 20 really shows that you want to be a part of the program."

Added senior inside linebacker Josh Rush, “We’re trying to become faster and stronger. We’re trying to reach a goal. We’re trying to be state champions.”

And this is a particularly close-knit group of seniors, as the majority have been playing football alongside each other since a young age.

"A Pee Wee football league was started in the community when we were 7 years old," Peebles said. "We all joined and it started from there."

Added Philadelphia coach Teddy Dyess, "They only lost one game from their junior high years through their junior varsity years. For a group that's maybe not as talented as some, they have won a whole bunch of football games."

Philadelphia has enjoyed tremendous success in the seven years that Dyess has been at the helm, including 79 wins and six District 5-3A championships. But a state championship, and even a South State title, have eluded Dyess and the Tornadoes.

“We haven’t reached the ultimate goal of winning a state championship yet,” Dyess said. “Once you get to the second round of the playoffs, you have to get lucky. We just haven’t caught that key break at the right time."

And with a dedicated group of seniors, combined with a hungry group of underclassmen willing to take the necessary steps, reaching the next level is a realistic possibility.

"This has been one of the better summers that we have had," Dyess said. "We've played 7-on-7 against other schools about six times this offseason, and our lineman went to the East Mississippi Community College camp. And we have about 68 kids on the roster, and we've had about 60 show up for workouts per day. It's one of the better, if not the best summers that we've had since I've been here."

Added Peebles, "There's been more players show up for the early mornings more than there has ever been. You have to have the right motives. Some mornings, you may not feel like getting up, but you don't want to be the weak link in the chain."

An increase in player attendance this summer is due in large part to solid leadership among a senior class looking to set an example.

"I look for leadership during the summer," Dyess said. "I look for our seniors to step up and lead the rest of the younger kids, because it ultimately is the seniors' program. I expect them to take control of the football program during the summer months."

Dyess is particularly proud of the way Peebles and Rush have conducted themselves as they transitioned in becoming team leaders.  

"KJ (Peebles) has been in our program for six years, and he's done a tremendous job this offseason of stepping into that leadership role this offseason," Dyess said. "He gets after it. He's played a lot of positions for us in his career, but last year we settled on Sam linebacker for him, and he did a great job for us."

"Josh (Rush) is a quiet kid. He doesn't say a whole lot, but he's always here and always leading by example and doing what he's supposed to do, and sometimes that's the best type of leader. He plays inside linebacker for us, and he just makes tackles."

Despite rarely expressing his displeasure in words, Rush instead sets the tone with his actions.

"If someone is not doing their sprints as hard as they need to, I'll lead by example and run harder," Rush said. "Or if someone gets tired, that's when I try to step in and lead by example. This is my last year playing football, so I have to be a great role model for the younger guys, and help them try to be better than me."

With the surge in offseason workouts combined with the solid foundation in seasons past, in addition to a group of senior leaders, the fall cannot get here any sooner for the Tornadoes.    

“Our kids play hard, practice hard and work hard,” Dyess said. “We’re doing the right things as a program, and it just comes down to the fact that at some point, we have to catch a break."

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