Evan Thompson / The Record — South Whidbey junior Caden Spear prepares for the final race of the three-day beach practice sessions on Aug. 19 at Double Bluff Beach.

South Whidbey football program brings back beach practices

Beach practices under South Whidbey head coach Mark Hodson have long been known to forge bonds between teammates and push them to the brink of exhaustion.

They can also showcase the resolve of individual players.

Nearing the end of the third and final day of workouts at Double Bluff Beach, Hodson called for the top athletes from six beach teams to compete in a rope race. The rest of the Falcons were instructed to pick the athlete they thought would win. The consequence of choosing incorrectly was push ups.

Most chose Caden Spear, a junior running back and safety who led the way in previous races. As over half the team gathered at his side, he promised them that he wouldn’t let them down. Spear kept his word by beating his teammates to the finish line, but paid the price five minutes later when he keeled over and threw up his morning breakfast on the sand. Spear said he plans to put in the same amount of effort in season play and hopes it will inspire his teammates.

“When they see me going hard, I want them to go hard too,” Spear said. “I’m not going to give up on the field. I want them to see that. I think it’s really important.”

The fall season kicks off at home against Coupeville on Sept. 1.

Beach practices were a cornerstone in Hodson’s program for over a decade before he stepped away from Falcon football in 2013. He was rehired this spring after former head coach Michael Coe resigned.

“Spending a couple hours on the beach conditioning is more than what we could ever do on the field,” Hodson said after Saturday’s practice.

“These guys are believing in what we’re doing. It’s neat to see that trust being built up between players and coaches,” he added.

Players were divided into beach teams captained by seniors. Each team earned points based on its performances, which are later tallied to declare a winning team. Following rules and finishing as fast as possible are paramount to each race, which included sprints, relays and sack races. The players carried ropes from the Clinton ferry dock, hauled logs across the beach and hopped in coffee sacks from Mukilteo Coffee Roasters in nearly every drill, all of which helps prepare the players for the grind of a football season and build a sense of unity.

The coaches managed to sprinkle in some fun moments in between drills to give the Falcons a breather and a laugh, such as a “closest to the pin” contest using golf clubs and balls. After the quick respite, it was back to another drill.

Senior Hunter Ewart felt the fundamental goals of the beach practices were accomplished following the final day at Double Bluff.

“It just feels a lot more like a team and group instead of just individual grades,” Ewart said.

Shouting and encouragement could be heard from players as their teammates lifted ropes over their heads and flipped logs end over end across the beach. Senior lineman Cameron Middlebrook said his motivation came from being around his teammates.

“It’s really competitive,” Middlebrook said. “If I was out here on my own doing this stuff, I wouldn’t be going as hard.”

The resistance from the sand added to the physical exhaustion experienced by the players, Ewart said.

“I know after I left each day, my calves and my feet were on fire,” Ewart said. “When I run on the field, I feel so much better.”

Middlebrook noted that he was proud to see that all 35 Falcons managed to stick through the arduous challenges and not quit.