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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Stanhope Elmore's TJ Jackson (94) and William Whitlow (90) provide a tough opponent for the team’s offense during practice.

After just one week of summer workouts, the Stanhope Elmore football team attended a 7-on-7 camp in Troy. Two weeks later, the Mustangs saw massive improvements at their second camp last Thursday when they traveled to Eufaula.

“We went down there and got a chance to play three teams,” Stanhope coach Brian Bradford said. “I think we played pretty well but we weren’t really keeping track of the results so it’s tough to say exactly how we did but I saw a lot of good things. We definitely looked better this time around.”

While results weren’t officially recorded, Bradford said the players and coaching staff still knew the score most of the time throughout the round-robin competition. He said it helped drive the competitive spirit of the event while also allowing the team to focus on finding improvements without worrying about finishing on top at the end of the day.

“We focus on winning every possession,” Bradford said. “We want to see them compete; that’s why we go to these things. And if we do that, the score will take care of itself.”

After seeing some early struggles in Troy at the beginning of the summer period, Bradford said he liked what he saw from his team during last week’s camp.

“I think we looked a lot better this time,” Bradford said. “That’s why I like events like this. We get a chance to see some first-year guys and some young players to step up and compete for the first time at this level.”

One of those first-year players is wide receiver Dalton Smith, who has stepped into a role where the Mustangs need more production. Bradford said Smith was the team’s leading receiver on the day and specifically stepped up big in a high-energy game against Eufaula.

Smith will be relied on as a part of a receiving core which will need to help first-year quarterback Jalen Walker. After playing linebacker for his first two seasons at the varsity level, Walker has transitioned into the team’s signal caller for his senior year.

“He’s developing very fast,” Bradford said. “The more coverages and looks he sees is always going to make him better. Every day is going to help him grow a little bit more.”

Another beneficial part of the 7-on-7 camps is getting a chance for Walker to go up against a defense which is not his own. Bradford said it is not easy to go up against the same defense every week, especially when it may be the most talented one you see all year.

“The best defense we see is going to be ours,” Bradford said. “We truly believe that. So, it really helps prepare our offense but it can also hurt us sometimes. It’s tough for our guys to get anything going because it’s tough for anyone against our guys.”

The heart of the Mustang defense is in the trenches where Troy commit TJ Jackson and Tennessee-offered William Whitlow anchor a strong defensive line. However, Bradford has seen a lot of improvements this season from the secondary with the help of senior safety Jeremy Thompson.

“They’re getting better every week,” Bradford said. “J.T. is back and he’s doing a great job in the back, he’s like the quarterback of the defense. He’s putting everyone in the right position and he can play anywhere back there.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.