By Jim O'Hara
ROME--The Winthrop-King Centre was void of the sounds that are usually heard during the year when its spaces are full of Shorter University athletes, teams, coaches and fans.
Summer has once again arrived. It is a time when the Hawk Nation takes a collective break, taking a much-needed breath and this leaving the university’s athletic centerpiece nearly empty.
Down in the confines, however, of the first floor of the facility one late afternoon, four men sitting in their small, windowless offices were hard at work doing what they need to do to make sure Shorter’s football team is on the right path to take on with success the challenges ahead of them.
“There’s a magnitude of work that is needed, especially paperwork,” Hawks head coach Phil Jones, who was joined in the team’s workspace by three of his coaches – assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Tim Mathis, defensive coordinator Nathan Burton and recruiting coordinator Paul Pitts.
The team’s season opener, when the Hawks head to Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 7 to face Division I FCS foe Charleston Southern will come sooner than expected, this the coaches are well aware of.
That’s why every member of the staff is using the time putting the final touches on the vast amount required paperwork that accompanies the incoming class of freshmen who have signed to play with the Hawks and be a part of the 140-player roster that reports on Aug. 1 to begin preseason workouts, start the initial recruiting game plan for this fall and prepare for three camps the team hosts in June.
The series of camps – a fourth will take place in July – kicks off June 10-13 when the annual Shorter Youth Camp for players ages 7-13 are held each morning at Brady Field.
A week later, young athletes will be given the opportunity to improve their skills under the eyes former NFL standouts when Shorter hosts the Kids & Pros Camp on June 17-20, one of 14 camps held this summer throughout the South. The camp, started by former Atlanta Falcons Buddy Curry and Bobby Butler and staffed by other former pros, will be held in the early evening and on May 18 the session is expected to include current Falcons players and coaches.
The third and final camp of June takes place on the 29th when the Hawks hold their Prospect Camp for this year’s rising class of high school seniors who are hoping to grab the attention of college recruiters. Last year the event drew more than 200 players.
“We kept an eye out for juniors when we were recruiting for this year’s class,” said Jones, whose staff could only watch this year’s rising seniors last fall and not talk to them. “You have to stay ahead of the game.
“Of course, we want all of the coaches to take a break and spend time with their families and we’ll do that,” the coach said, “but we’ll all be back to work every day around the second week of July.”
While one final summer camp takes place July 24-27, when Shorter host an Option Camp for high school teams that run same offense Hawks use, Jones and his staff will be spending the month concentrating on the arrival of this year’s team in the first week of August.
That’s when the Hawks turn their attention to their 2013 schedule, their second season as an NCAA Division II program – last year Shorter made an impressive debut posting a 6-5 record – and one that has stiffer tests within the nation’s toughest conference that produced another national champion last year, the Gulf South Conference, and just as tough non-conference showdowns.
After the opener against Charleston Southern, the Hawks’ season only gets tough as they return home to Barron Stadium to take on Division II South Atlantic Conference power Mars Hill on March 14 and then hit the road on Sept. 21 for their first GSC clash of the year squaring off against the defending national champion, Valdosta State.
That is the first of six tests in Shorter’s GSC slate, while the rest of the Hawks’ slate is packed with non-conference matchups including on at Barron against perennial SAC and Division II contender Carson-Newman.
“This time is real important for us,” Jones said about the work that is needed to be done this summer, “to not just prepare for the new season but for future seasons.”