Hawks happy to be back at work on first day of practice

Viera’s Kickoff Classic game moved to Vero Beach


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Viera High sophomore quarterback Bryce Norton, shown here during the team's spring game against Orlando Jones, has drawn rave reviews for his improvement as a passer over the summer.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

Rain may have cut their practice time down to an hour, but that didn’t dampen the spirits around the Viera High program on Monday.

After spring practice and a summer full of camps, seven-on-seven competitions and individual workouts, the players were happy to see what the first day of fall practice represents:

The start of a new season.

“It was almost like a relief, honestly,” senior linebacker Hunter Lee said. “It’s like, finally, we’re here. We’re ready to get it going and start rolling. It does feel good for sure. All the hard work is finally, hopefully, going to pay off.”

The Hawks went 8-2 last season, winning their fourth straight district title and reaching the regional semifinals.

There have been some significant changes since then, starting with the coaching staff, where Derek Smith has taken over the top spot after his childhood friend, Kevin Mays, left to become the athletic director at Tohopokeliga High.

Smith, who had been the Hawks defensive coordinator, said the only thing that felt different about Monday was that he had more clerical work to do than in years past.

A former head coach at Bayside, Smith spent part of the day guiding his players through safety procedures, making sure the locker room was clean and organized and letting both varsity and JV players know what’s expected of them in order to make the weekly dress list.

Senior wide receiver/tight end Jordy Emmons said the first day of practice is mostly about showing the new players how the Hawks do things, especially with the first practice in pads set for Saturday.

Lee, who transferred to Viera after last season, has had a full spring and summer to get used to his new teammates and the Hawks’ defensive scheme. That has allowed him to feel right at home as fall practice begins.

“Spring was really my learning curve,” the senior linebacker said.
“Now, I’m just trying to perfect my game and play the best I can.”

The Hawks, who put on an impressive performance in shutting out Orlando Jones 14-0 in their spring game last May, believe all the work they put in over the summer has been an ideal way to lead into the new season.

“Since the spring, we’ve gotten a lot better as a team,” Emmons said. “I think the offensive line … (quarterback) Bryce (Norton) seeing the passing lanes and getting comfortable with me, Shamaar (Mohr), Sean (Atkins) … we’ve gotten a lot better as a group.

“The running game’s starting to open up. I think the play calling and the defense are perfect.”

Norton, a sophomore who will take over for two-year starter Tim DeMorat, will play a big role in how far the Hawks will go this season. And so far, he’s drawing rave reviews.

“Seven-on-seven has been huge for us,” Smith said. “In the past, I would sit back and go, ‘Seven-on-seven is not really useful.’ But in Bryce Norton’s case … we all know he can run the football. The kid is a phenomenal runner, without a doubt.

“But (playing) seven-on-seven this summer has given him the capability to learn and trust his arm. The one thing about seven-on-seven is you get a lot of man coverage, man 2, so you have to be very precise in how you throw the football.

“It forced him to become a more accurate passer and I think by the end of the summer, we realized he could be a dual threat quarterback instead of a running threat quarterback.”

Emmons also had a lot of praise for Norton, saying “His development’s come great. He’s stepped in really well. He grew up pretty fast.”

One bit of news that also came out Monday is that Viera’s Kickoff Classic game, originally scheduled to played at home on Aug. 17, will now be moved to Vero Beach.

The Hawks’ next scheduled home game won’t be until Sept. 21 against Cocoa.

“For circumstances beyond our control, our field is not going to be playable for the Vero game, so we’ve had to move our Vero game to Vero,” Smith said. “Our three scheduled home JV games have been scheduled to be at Viera Regional Park.

“Again, our field is not going to be playable. It’s a non-playable surface and we’re not sure when it will be playable. Hopefully, it will be ready by the Cocoa game.”

With a string of road games against Vero Beach, Rockledge, Fort Dorchester (South Carolina), Osceola and Merritt Island to open the season, the Hawks would certainly enjoy the chance to be back at home to face Cocoa.

Either way, Viera will need to get a lot of good work in over the next few weeks in order to hit the ground running against a tough schedule like that. Fortunately for the Hawks, they feel like they’ve got the personnel to do just that.

“Our defense is a great defense, and we’ve got a good offense,” Emmons said. “Going against (each other) is going to prepare us for the teams that we play. Those are teams that are going to get us ready for our run, hopefully, to the state championship.

“Coach Smith runs a tough camp. We go fast-pace on offense and that helps the defense. All that conditioning helps.”