There's a feeling of excitement in the voice of Eupora head football coach Junior Graham.
Sure, the veteran head coach has been around long enough to know that there are no guarantees in the ever-changing landscape of high school football, but on the heels of the Eagles' recently-completed spring practice, Graham feels like his club is in good shape with the season not too far off in the horizon.
"Last year, we had the opportunity to play a lot of young guys," said Graham. "That's good and that's bad, but it let us enter the spring with a lot of experience even though we're still young. So the spring went really well. We just picked up where we left off from last fall."
Even as an inexperienced group, Eupora excelled last season. The Eagles went 8-4 overall in 2010 and advanced to the second round of the playoffs before being ousted by a West Bolivar team that eventually played for the Class 2A North championship.
Guiding Eupora's solid year was then-sophomore quarterback Jamal Roby.
In the months that have followed the Eagles' loss to West Bolivar, Graham says his signal-caller displayed over the course of the spring that he has developed both physically and mentally.
"There's no comparison to last year," said Graham. "He is physically in better condition, over 200 pounds now. He is beginning to understand the game a lot more than even what he did last fall. We let him call some plays this spring and that's something we wouldn't have dared let him do in the fall.
"He did a good job at that too, based on the defensive alignment. If we get him in the position where he can do those things for us at certain times, that makes our jobs a lot easier."
Through the optimism, all is not roses on the western side of Webster County. Even with all the promise, Graham says there is uncertainty at the running back position which has caused Eupora to have to change philosophies a bit.
"We've got decent running backs, but as far as that guy that we're going to give it to 25 times a game, we haven't found him yet," said Graham. "We've got two good fullbacks and we're going to rotate those two guys in there because there isn't much difference in them. Plus, we've got a backup quarterback now, which we didn't have really last year. That will let us incorporate our quarterback into our running game a lot more than what we did last year."
The Eagles were able to judge all of their spring progress and changes by hosting a jamboree against Water Valley.
Overall, Graham says he liked what he saw at the event and is now looking forward to the 2011 campaign.
"We held our own and got after them pretty good," said Graham. "They exposed some of our weaknesses, but at the same time, we were able to do some things against them that we hope is going to be our strengths in the fall. By being able to do that against them, we feel like we're heading in the right direction."
(Editor's Note: This is the third story of a series recapping spring practice for area high school football teams. The series concludes Wednesday with a look at Ackerman.)