April 13, 2018 10:02:17 AM
After a winless 2017 season, new Caledonia High School football coach Tim Nickens knows he and his players might face some challenges along the way as he starts to rebuild the program.
However, lack of personnel isn't one of them.
Nickens expects 70-80 players to take the field Wednesday when the Confederates start spring practice. The Mississippi High School Activities Association (MHSAA) allows 20 practice days. Caledonia will wrap up spring drills with an intrasquad scrimmage at the school.
"The numbers have been very pleasing," Nickens said. "We have a lot of guys who did not come out last year but played in the past who want to come back out. We have some new players who want to come out. The eighth-grade class, which will be moving up and becoming ninth-graders is huge. We may have to close 40 in that class."
"The enthusiasm and optimism is higher than I thought it would be. Everybody wants to get this turned around."
This past season, Nickens served as defensive coordinator at New Hope High. Prior to that, his coaching ties were to the northwest corner of the state and the state of Tennessee.
A friendship with former New Hope football coach Kris Pickle's father led to Kris Pickle and Nickens meeting and the two deciding to work together this past season.
Ricky Kendrick coached the Confederates this past season to a 0-10 mark. It was Kendrick's second stint as coach of the program.
New Hope beat Caledonia 34-3 as part of a 5-7 campaign.
"I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you (Caledonia) really struggled last year," Nickens said. "You saw a lot of kids trying to do the right thing. They played hard, were disciplined and all of that, but they didn't have the athletes or speed to match up.
"It's a Class 4A school, so there should be some talented athletes wanting to play football. Our biggest job will be recruiting and selling the program. It appears the kids want to be successful and have the right attitude to try to get that done."
Nickens has been going to Caledonia High for weight lifting and conditioning for the past month or so. He eagerly anticipates the spring practice periods. He declined a chance to play another opponent in a spring game because he felt like the offensive and defensive systems wouldn't be in place by May.
"We will do a lot of film work and a lot of teaching of fundamentals. Those are the main things," Nickens said. "I want to get each kid on film so we can access his complete game and the way that person can help us do things."
While Caledonia hasn't been a traditional state title contender, Andy Crotwell had the team in the Class 4A playoffs in 2014 and 2016.
"Caledonia is a great school," Nickens said. "When you first start coaching, you are worried about the football program you are going to coach. Then as you get older, it turns into what kind of school district are you connected with. This is a first-place area to raise a family. We are going to work hard at this and see what we can get done."
Nickens will be reunited with his family this summer. His wife -- a longtime teacher at Northwest Mississippi Community College -- and oldest daughter remained in Senatobia this past year so she could graduate with her friends. A second daughter will be a 10th-grader when the family relocates to Lowndes County this summer.
"It will be exciting to have everybody back together," Nickens said. "This is a good position for me. The response by the kids has been tremendous. They want to win and they want to work hard to have a chance to do that. If you can get the hard work from everybody, that's half the battle."
Scott Walters is a sports writer for The Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
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