On the day before he turned 30, Springdale (Ark.) Shiloh Christian football coach Josh Floyd got to see his team take the field for the first time this spring.
It wasn't quite the birthday gift he wanted.
"We were very rusty," Floyd said. "You could tell it was our first time out there as a team."
The Saints, which finished No. 43 in the RivalsHigh 100 in 2009, return almost their entire team and enter 2010 with heavy expectations.
Those expectations will be quickly tested as Shiloh takes on Pine Bluff (Ark.) Watson Chapenl before it heads to the Herbstreit Football Series in Texas to take on one of the best teams in the nation, Euless (Texas) Trinity.
Floyd says he can tell that his team, as rusty as it may be on the field, is focused and working hard entering the season.
"They are trying to improve," he said. "This isn't a team that needs extra motivation, but that game (with Trinity) in Texas has them working their butts off in the weight room."
The weight room is one thing. Getting out on the field is something else altogether.
"We know we are going to have to get out and do it," Floyd said. "And some people may think we are crazy for taking the game, but it is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these kids.
"Now we need to take this time to get on the field as a team and see where we are."
Over the past 10 years, the Arkansas High School Activities Association has expanded the number of spring practice days from five to 10. It's an expansion that Floyd welcomed and now feels his team must take advantage of.
"It is a big deal for us," he said. "We have three or four spots that will have brand new guys and we don't want to wait until August to evaluate them."
Teams to Watch: With spring football underway it is not just Shiloh Christian that we expect to be involved come state playoff time.
El Dorado High
The Wildcats return the majority of their 6A Championship winning team. After going 12-1 in 2009 a similar result is expected in 2010.
Another state winning team that returns its stars. The Class 3A winner from 2009 is an odds on pick to repeat.
The Bulldogs are set to bring back a lot of familiar faces from its 10-2 team last season. A run to the 5A state finals is not out of the question.
Coach Wood returns most of the team on offense and looks poised to win the Class 7A title. With its depth and offensive line it could be the No. 1 overall team in the state.
After nearly winning a state title in Class 6A, the Wildcats drop down to 5A this season. A meeting with Greenwood in the finals would be excellent.
The spots that Shiloh Christian must replace are at center, wide receiver, middle linebacker, and potentially two spots in its secondary.
The biggest of those, however, is at linebacker as the Saints must replace Mitchell Roberts, its 6-3, 240-pound heart-and-soul.
"We are going to miss Mitchell and what he brought to our team," Floyd said. "The message I will need to make clear to whomever fills that spot is that they don't need to be Mitchell."
That's because the Saints return their entire defensive line as well as both outside linebackers. The middle linebacker spot, Floyd said, can be filled with a speedy playmaker that doesn't necessarily have to be a physical presence like Roberts was.
Meanwhile, the spot on the offensive line is an important one as well. The Saints run the Gus Malzhan-form of the spread offense and need to protect one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Kiehl Frazier.
Frazier, who has Division I offers from coast-to-coast, is the leader of the team and, according to Floyd, the key to the season.
"Getting Kiehl's timing down with the receivers is paramount for us," Floyd said. "That is one of the biggest things we work on in the spring period."
While Floyd stressed that having a player of Frazier's caliber does not cause him much concern, the spring football and 7-on-7 season is something that helps alleviate timing issues that could crop up without it.
"If we didn't get out there and work on this stuff, we wouldn't see these guys together until August," Floyd said. "And then you won't know what you have when it is time to strap it up."
Floyd and the Saints are scheduled to take part in the Shootout of the South 7-on-7 tournament on June 18 and 19 at Little Rock (Ark.) Pulaski Academy.
The event - which also features Allen (Texas) High, Springdale (Ark.) Har-Ber, Fayetteville (Ark.) High, Nashville (Ark.) High, Pine Bluff (Ark.) Watson Chapel, among others - is one of the premier 7-on-7 tournaments in the country and will be a good early signal for Floyd.
"The 7-on-7 is one of the best things for quarterbacks," Floyd said. "It is all passing and timing and it is invaluable for those guys to get out and get reps."
Floyd would be one to know about quarterbacks. He was one of the most prolific high school quarterbacks in the nation and still holds many Arkansas state passing records from his time at Shiloh.
He also knows about tempering excitement, especially after his first day of on-field observations.
"We will need to get a lot better if we want to compete with Trinity," he said. "But, I am sure we will."