On-the-Job Training Camp
Worrell Getting Used to Being Boss
Ramsey Worrell, Woodstock High's first-year head football coach, discusses a passing grip with quarterback Luke Issa, center, and center Cole Wescott during a Monday morning practice.
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Quarterback Nehemiah Wood prepares to receive a snap from center Ryan Blanchard during the Wasps' Monday morning practice.
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Woodstock — During a break in Monday morning’s football practice, three of the Woodstock High receivers stood in a triangle and began tossing two balls amongst themselves at the same time. The concept worked well until someone decided to introduce a third ball, at which point the exercise dissolved into dropped pigskins and laughter.
A few minutes later, first-year head coach Ramsey Worrell was also looking a bit harried. Drills were running 10 minutes behind schedule, his players were not sharing his sense of urgency and if those split ends dropped another pass, he might just snap.
“Come on, Steve! Catch the ball!” Worrell bellowed after senior Stephen Titus couldn’t come up with a reception. “Catch the ball or don’t be the first one in line! We’ve got about a 5 percent completion percentage right now.”
The first day of high school football practice is always somewhat out of whack. Players expected to show up sometimes don’t. Others appear without the correct paperwork. Rookies gum up the works as unfamiliar terms and techniques overwhelm them.
Worrell, 37, has plenty of Woodstock football experience as a longtime Wasps assistant. But Monday was the first time he’d ever been in charge of the program on the field, and that’s entirely a different view.
“I’m learning fast to delegate, but it’s hard not to think I have to do it all myself,’’ said Worrell, who replaced 31-year veteran Jim McLaughlin earlier this year, following the Wasps’ second consecutive Vermont Division III title and the ninth of McLaughlin’s career. “I never got involved in the logistical stuff before, and some of the things I thought would be simple were not.”
Such as remembering to bring a watch to the practice field. Worrell had to keep digging in his pocket and tinkering with his cell phone on that account, and it was driving him batty. There was no time to stew, however, because with 37 players and only two assistants at his disposal, the boss had to keep things moving.
“Get on the line!” Worrell shouted when his second offensive unit dawdled a bit.
“Keep running!” he roared when a receiver caught a pass and jogged a few casual steps up the field.
The sound of Worrell’s voice and not McLaughlin’s spurring them on was a bit unsettling to some Woodstock players, none of whom was yet born when someone other than “Coach Mac” was bossing the Wasps around.
“It’s a little funky having him up front and not in the background,” said Titus. “There’s a lot of yelling. He’s trying to make a name for himself.”
Said junior center Will Gault: “He’s a good guy and very funny outside of football. But he gets down to business and doesn’t allow us to slack off.”
The Wasps will have to be sharp from the start if they’re to extend the program’s 20-game winning streak. Woodstock lost a dozen players to graduation earlier this year, including three selections for the Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl all-star game as well as standout quarterback and kicker Hunter Schmell.
A proven nucleus returns, but the line must be rebuilt and the junior class only includes five players.
“Frankly, I’m worried a little bit,’’ Titus said. “But we worked our butts off in the first practice, and hopefully that kind of effort will show in the long run.”
Added Gault: “It’s definitely a rebuilding year, but at least we’re running the exact same systems. If a new coach had come in and changed things, that would have messed everybody up and been weird.”
Among the returnees primed for playing time are senior fullbacks and linebackers Oliver Kaija and Bradley Lewis, junior quarterback Nehemiah Wood and senior receiver and defensive back Zach Cole, who may also see time under center. Senior running back Tom Baumann had a big showing in last year’s title game, and classmates Sam Zonay, a tight end and defensive end, and Chris Flynn, a receiver and cornerback, also bear watching.
“We think we have as good a shot as anybody,” Worrell said. “We prepare our younger kids for the future, and I don’t care if we’re only playing with freshmen, we’re going to compete.”
Worrell was a good enough player that he could join the football team at Dean Junior College in Texas after his 1994 graduation from Woodstock, where his father, Chuck, coached from 1987-2012. A paperwork snafu and rising tuition meant Ramsey Worrell couldn’t afford to return for the 1995 season, and he hooked on with McLaughlin and became a housepainter to pay the bills. Nearly 20 years later, he’s in charge and his father is helping out here and there on the program’s periphery.
“He’s sharp, and he sees the big picture even while he’s working on the details,” Chuck Worrell said of his son after Monday’s workout. “The kids respect him because he respects them.”
That characteristic was evident Monday, a few minutes after Titus’ first dropped pass, when he dropped another. The Wasps no doubt braced for more hollering, but Ramsey Worrell mixed in some misdirection. Calling the receiver over, he spoke quietly while demonstrating proper technique with his hands. Titus headed to the rear of the line with a pat on the head from the new head man.
“He’s very specific on the little details,” Gault said. “And I like that, because if the little things are messed up, that’s a big problem.”
Worrell said he’s looking forward to conquering his inevitable learning curve. Today, a misplaced watch, tomorrow something else, no doubt.
“There are going to be some things this year that I may learn the hard way,” he said. “To replace one of the best coaches ever in the state is going to be hard, but it would have been harder for someone coming in from the outside with a whole new system and who didn’t know the kids and the program.
“Not much is going to change right now, but I’m sure that over time, I’ll evolve as a coach and get better.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.