Northwest Whitfield’s school year will wrap up in a couple weeks, but for the football team, the education is just beginning.

The Bruins marked their first day of spring practice on Wednesday, with nine more sessions in store and some important steps to take toward the summer and the 2007 schedule along the way.

For starters, the Bruins are installing a new spread offense based on Appalachian State’s scheme. The Mountaineers’ look caught the eye of Mike Falleur and his coaching staff during last year’s Division I-AA national championship game in Chattanooga.

In recent seasons, the Bruins used a spread-option that relied strongly on the running game. But their new look will make three- and four-receiver sets more common.

“We watched Appalachian State play in the championship game and, looking at our kids — at a different level — it kind of fits what we have,” Falleur said. “It was just something that interested us.”

Falleur and his staff made several trips to the Boone, N.C., school over the winter to familiarize themselves with the offense. Now they’re passing it on to their players.

“This is an important 10 days for us to be able to put in the base of what we’re doing offensively,” Falleur said, “and to see where our kids are as far as understanding it and what we’ve got to do this summer.”

Falleur will also be pushing new leaders into spots on the offensive line and at quarterback, where seniors did much of the work last season.

Zach Keeter, who will be a senior, and Seth Vineyard and Dean Haynes, rising juniors, are in competition at quarterback. Keeter and Vineyard played behind starter Drew Carter and backup Garett Burgess in 2006, while Haynes saw extensive varsity time as a defensive back.

“He’s a good athlete and he’s a smart kid,” Falleur said of Haynes, who’s going under center for the first time. “We’re going to go through the spring and see how he does and see where we’re at.”

The Bruins have less replacing to do at other positions or at least return players with significant backup experience, but the new offense will present its own learning curve.

On defense, there are few changes to make and plenty of veterans who will try to pick up where they left off last season. But Falleur expects progress of its own sort there, too.

“It’s an opportunity to find out what improvements you’ve made through the winter physically,” he said, “and then what young guys are going to step up and maybe be able to help you a little bit.”

Northwest eased into practice, going in shorts and helmets on Wednesday, but will add shoulder pads today before putting on full pads for a morning session on Friday.

That workout has been scheduled early because of Northwest’s baseball success. The Bruins are hosting Tucker in a state playoff series this weekend, with a doubleheader scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

And that’s only part of the juggling Falleur will have to do for at least a little while. Keeter and Vineyard are both members of the baseball team, which obviously would like to keep playing as long as possible, while Haynes will be one of those out of practice today and Friday as several members of the school’s track and field team travels to Jefferson for the boys state meet.

But that didn’t seem to be much of a worry after the first day for Falleur, who knows with approximately 160 players — 60 of them incoming freshmen who must learn the ropes of high school practice — working out this spring, there are plenty of eager students waiting on him and his staff each day.

“It’s a great 10 days to work on the fundamentals of football and continue building your team,” Falleur said.

Northwest’s spring game is schedule for May 22 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 and include a barbecue dinner.

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