'Horns, 'Dogs put in work on passing game

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   The Johnson County and Hampton High School football teams weren't dressed out in pads, but several members of those squads did perform in a dress rehearsal for the upcoming high school football season this week.
   The Longhorns and the Bulldogs, as well as other teams, participated in a passing league at Cloudland High School.
   The league involves mainly skill people, with every play being a throw.
   Johnson County head coach Mike Atwood thinks it was a good thing for some of his squad members to participate in.
   "I think this helps our skill people, our backs and receivers," Atwood said. "We've got a couple at basketball camp and a couple at the beach, so we don't really have our best team here. But it's time to get started, and this is a good way to get everybody in the mood."
   The passing league was a way for Johnson County quarterback Adam Johnson to show off his strong arm. It was obvious during the exhibitions that he was throwing the ball farther than he was last season.
   Atwood was very pleased with Johnson.
   "He's much better," Atwood said. "He's throwing the ball a lot better. He's gotten bigger, stronger and faster. We really look for a big year out of him."
   The league also gave some younger Longhorn players a chance to get some valuable experience. Four of those players were freshmen, but Atwood was very happy with them.
   After the game with Hampton, Atwood was extremely thrilled with freshman players like Nathan Paisley and Thomas Moore.
   "They both played real good," Atwood said. "Thomas Moore made two interceptions, and I think Nathan caught a good pass. They're both ninth graders, and I look for them to help out on the varsity team this year.
   Most of the Longhorn starters didn't participate in the passing league, but Atwood is excited about his team's prospects this year.
   "We've got a bunch coming back," Atwood said. "We've got a couple that are still injured from last year. We look for them to come back, but will see when the season starts."
   The week was mostly about getting ready for practice to begin. Practice begins for most schools on August 1.
   Johnson County players have been lifting weights over the summer, but everybody is just starting to get into the groove.
   "We're just trying to get in gear," Atwood said. "Our county is so spread out, it's hard for us to get together over the summer. We're just now getting started."
   Hampton looked very sharp in the scrimmage against Johnson County, and showed that throwing the football may be a strength this year.
   Quarterback Mitchell Morton and wide receiver Eric Swain both performed well for legendary head coach J.C. Campbell.
   "They didn't catch it very well Monday night, but (against Johnson County) they did pretty well."
   Morton moved the ball well against the Longhorns, and Campbell thinks that he has the potential to be a good one.
   "Mitchell's a good athlete," Campbell said. "He was going through a learning experience last year, and he's done a pretty good job for us."
   Hampton football in the past has been known more for its running game than for its passing attack. Campbell says whether or not the Bulldogs go to the air will depend on the progress of his receivers.
   "You would like to," Campbell said when asked if he would like to throw it more this year. "If you've got people who can throw it and catch it. That's the easiest way, and it's usually more of a long gainer when you do that.
   "People think it's your quarterback. It's your receivers that make your offense go, running routes and getting open and catching the ball."
   Campbell believes that Swain could be a force at wideout this upcoming season. He went through some growing pains last year, but the junior might be ready to shine.
   "It looks like Swain could be one of those guys," Campbell said. "Swain didn't play when he was a freshman, then he came back out last year and got behind. He didn't catch the ball well all year, but he's catching it real well now."
   The passing league also gives teams a chance to work on their pass coverage. Campbell feels the Bulldogs are doing all right there, but still have a ways to go.
   "At times we've dogged them pretty good," Campbell said. "At times we didn't know where we were at. We've not spent a whole lot of time on that side of it. We've mostly been throwing."
   Like Atwood, Campbell is anxious to get the season started.
   "We're ready to go," Campbell said.
   (Note: Cloudland story to appear in Sunday's edition).