Practices under way in Sauk Valley, across state
For Cory Bielema, his Morrison Mustangs’ state title defense didn’t begin when he turned off the alarm at 5:30 Wednesday morning.
For coaches and most of their players, football is a year-round labor of love, including countless hours in the weight room and 7-on-7 drills during the offseason that stretches from late November to early August.
But, call it a rite of passage or call it semantics, there was a different feeling in the air when all the high-school football programs in Illinois were allowed to open
“When we went this morning, there’s something that’s just a little bit different,” first-year Sterling head coach Jon Schlemmer said. “Their lockers are full, they’ve got everything and their new gear. They’re kind of ripped and ready to go.”
“The date, I don’t want to say it’s lost its luster, but it can just feel like another date of the football season,” Bielema said during practice early Wednesday afternoon. “But I woke up this morning excited to get after it and get things going. The alarm went off, and it was like, ‘2012 is here.’ ”
It began for the defending Class 2A state champs the same way it does every
“It’s really back to Square 1,” Bielema said. “We’ve got them running and conditioning a lot, but a lot of it is learning for the new kids out. And for the kids who are coming back, it’s shaking off the rust.”
Comets can’t wait: The energy was high for the start of Newman’s evening practice session Wednesday. Calisthenics were followed by brief agility drills, then each position group broke into its own set of drills after a short water break.
The Comets hustled between stations, calling out to one another and responding loudly to every command and question from their coaches.
“We’ve been lifting and working out on our own all summer, and everybody’s really hungry to finally get out here and practice as a team,” senior Luke LeMay said. “These first few days are the hardest, but you’re ready to get back to actual football instead of just preparation for it. This is a hard-working team, and I know we were all excited to come out and practice today.”
After the morning session, several players hung out together at LeMay’s house for some early-season bonding. Others, like senior Kyle Moore, caught up on some sleep that he couldn’t manage to get Tuesday night.
“You can never sleep the night before, because you’re so excited,” Moore said. “Practice isn’t really fun, but you’re always looking forward to getting back out on the field. I really feel this team is ready to go, even from the first minute of the first day. The soreness you feel these first few days is all worth it; getting ready for that first game is all the motivation you need.”
Check out the Dukes: With just one winning season out of the last 10, part of the battle for Dixon is sparking interest. Another part is sustaining it.
The Dukes took a step in the right direction a year ago with wins over United Township and Streator, as well as competitive losses against Geneseo, LaSalle-Peru, Rock Island Alleman and Ottawa.
Beatdown losses to Rochelle, Kaneland and Sterling, however, had some fans thinking the same old Dukes were up to their old tricks. Senior lineman Jared Frey has a simple solution to that.
“I would say come and watch us once,” Frey said. “This is a whole new year. Rochelle could be down; we could be up. You never know what could happen. Come and watch us play, and we’ll see what we can do.”
Rock Falls balances work, play: While Wednesday meant getting back down to business, Jay Mammosser refused to make it all work and no play.
He messed with his players during a “gator” drill with a football on a rope and could help himself from laughing not only out loud, but heartily, when they flinched. He also took a disguised jab at himself, asking those same players why they weren’t able to read his mind as to what he wanted them to do.
“Some of them have been around me for too long,” Mammosser said. “It’s a good group of kids. They come out and work hard. We try to keep it fun and focus on enjoying it,” Mammosser said. “Football’s supposed to be fun.”
That being said, it isn’t lost on the ninth-year head coach of the Rockets that his squad went 0-9 last season after a 1-8 showing the year before. So he wasn’t shy about challenging his lineman during a blocking drill, yelling, “Come on! Show me you wanna play football. Hit the son of gun!”
Big shoes to fill: Eastland-Pearl City must replace the likes of Chase “Bubba” Wilhelms and Nathan “Gator” Falk, as well as virtually all of its skill players.
“We had guys learning from them,” said two-year starter Austin Young a senior. “Everybody wants to be like Gator and Bubba. You look up to them, and now hopefully we all step in and do it.”
Young, a two-way lineman, doesn’t plan on having any regrets.
“I like the quote, ‘Don’t be sad that it’s over, be happy that it happened.’ Tonight’s my last first practice, and I’m going to make the most of everything this season.”
EPC coach Randy Asche knows his team has a long way to go.
“We were senior and sophomore dominated last year,” Asche said. “We don’t have a large senior class. We’re going to rely on young guys, and they’re going to need to grow up quick.”
Happy campers at AFC: Head coach Brad Winterland uses the first official day of practice as an extension of what he and his staff worked on during summer camp back in June.
“The main thing we want to do is refresh what we put in at camp at the beginning of summer,” Winterland said. “We’ve got a lot more time now that the first practice is here, and now we’re going to start cleaning up the technique aspect. At camp, we didn’t have as much time to focus on technique.
“Camp was more install. Now, it’s refresh the install and clean up the technique stuff.”
It’s a concept that the players embrace. Senior Josh Kaecker noted the most important things for players to do the first day is put forth their best effort and pay attention.
“Now is the most important time to learn,” Kaecker said. “It’s not too hot, so we should be able to get a lot done.”