WEST POINT —
To start out the first morning of fall football practice, West Point coach A.J. Lamar put his defense and defensive special teams on the field so he could wait and work with the offense during the later practice.
“I like doing offense last thing just because the kids are tired and have to think a little bit more,” he said. “It’s more like a fourth-quarter style practice when it’s at the end of the game and those guys have to concentrate and stay focused a little more.”
Among those offensive players that Lamar is trying to challenge mentally, as well as physically, is returning sophomore quarterback Bryant Farley, who made it to all 23 summer workouts the coaches planned.
“That speaks volumes from your players when your quarterback’s made every workout,” Lamar said. “He’s done the extra stuff. He’s put on about 12-15 pounds since basketball season, so that’s nice. His arm’s gotten a lot stronger, and that’s a plus.”
Farley said showing leadership despite his young age was important to him.
“I try to lead by example and show them I want to take over this team and that I want to try to lead,” he said.
Skills-wise, Farley said he’s mainly been fine-tuning his footwork, as well as building up his throwing strength. He’s also been working on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’ve been working on defensive back, safety and corner so far,” he said. “I’ve played it two or three games last year, so it’s not really new. I know what to do.”
Lamar said the team will be based out of a spread offense, giving Farley plenty of chances to throw the ball, and it helps that the signal-caller also has a lot of confidence in his receivers, many of whom were targets last year.
“I’ve got Wesley Smith returning, Tate Duckett and Luke Glover, Will Wren, they’ll start this year probably,” he said. “It just lets me feel that they’ll catch the ball if I throw it to them.”
When it comes to special teams, Lamar has the challenge of replacing All-State first-team kicker Mark Laney.
Senior Wesley Smith is looking to take over as the main punter, and senior Tyler Smith has been working as the place kicker and kickoff specialist.
“Wesley punted a lot last year for us until Mark was ready to go, so he kicked for us last year, and so did Mark,” Lamar said. “Tyler kicked all last year. He was Mark’s backup. He’s worked really hard and got his leg a lot stronger. He’s doing what we ask him to do, so we’re happy with our special teams right now.”
West Point has had quite the reputation for its special teams over the years. Lamar said that’s one part of the game he always tries to emphasize.
“It’s a third of the game,” he said. “We don’t want to get beat in the kicking game. We want to be sound there.”
In the first three practices, Lamar will have the team in shorts, which he said helped the excitement level. But come Thursday, the Warriors will be in pads.
“When full pads come Thursday, we’ll see how much they’re really excited,” he said. “Right now, I’m really happy. There’s been a lot of good intensity, a lot of talking, a lot of communicating. We’re just fine-tuning everything.”
Farley said practicing in pads will be a good test.
“It’s going to be different with throwing the ball,” he said. “I’ve just got to get used to throwing with pads on. Then running with the pants on, it’s going to be different. You get to see who’s going to come out and step up, and hopefully I can come out and step up also.”
In two weeks, the team will face Good Hope in a jamboree game and then open the regular season against Brewer at home the next week. For Lamar, those are his only two concerns right now.
“We’re not worried about who we’ve got game 2, 3, 4,” he said. “We're just taking it one practice, one game, one day.”
*Editor’s note: Pick up the Football Fever special section on Aug. 26 to see a team preview for West Point, as well as the other eight schools in the Times’ coverage area.