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Football practices underway in the Sauk Valley

Published: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 11:18 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 3:48 p.m. CST
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(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
The Dixon Dukes football team takes to the field Monday morning for the first day of practice.
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
The Dixon Dukes football team runs through drills Monday morning for the first day of practice.
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(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Sterling varsity football players work on recovering a loose ball Monday during the first day of practice.
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(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Sterling varsity football players work on defensive drills Monday during the first day of practice.
Caption
(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Sterling varsity football players work on defensive drills Monday during the first day of practice.

For most of the Dixon football team, running 300-meter sprints at the end of the first practice on Monday morning was a form of corrective punishment.

For JD Gieson, it was an early track workout.

Whenever the Dukes made an egregious mistake, or worse yet, got caught loafing, a sprint was added to the end of practice. The Dixon players had three sprints tacked on to the end of their initial 2 1/2-hour session, and Gieson, a state qualifier in the 300 hurdles this past spring, made sure to grab the inside lane for each of his 3/4 laps around the track.

"You don't want to run any extra out there," Gieson said with a smile.

Gieson and 10 other seniors return from last season's 3-6 squad, Dixon's best mark since matching that record in 2008. Improved talent, as well as a jump to the Big Northern West from the Northern Illinois Big 12 West, has the Dukes thinking big.

"It's like a whole new spark," Gieson said. "We've never felt this great coming out of the summer. It's always been like, 'Well, what do we expect out of this season?' This year, we know that we're going to be great, and we have to live up to those expectations."

There are 33 varsity players on this year's squad, up from last year's 28. That group had only five seniors, and just two of those had extensive experience. This year's senior class of 11 is the most in head coach Dave Smith's 4 years on the job.

He is looking forward to having that group lead the team to success.

"The seniors, they know the system," Smith said. "Some of these guys have been with me now for 3 years, and there isn't a whole lot of teaching going on right now. It's them helping to get the drills going and the team sessions.

"It's really nice to be around 11 seniors that know what they're doing."

Monday wasn't so much about X's and O's as it was about effort and attitude. Very little of what the Dukes will be doing in the season opener against Monmouth-Roseville on Aug. 29 was revealed.

Smith noted the practice was basically an extension of summer camp.

"It's day 1, and we kept it really basic today," Smith said. "We'll add more each day, and it's going to get more intense as we go."

•••

Handfuls of players wore bucket hats that shaded their necks from the midday sun as they jogged around the artificial turf on Sterling's football field Monday as part of a walkthrough sandwiched between two faster-paced practices.

Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer barked out play calls as the players went through the motions of different run and pass plays, focusing on first-step quickness, as well as ingraining a core set of plays in their minds.

"We've installed pretty much everything," Schlemmer said. "We're lucky with the way the summer works now that we were able to get everything installed.

"[Monday] when we got here, we were able to try to work on fundamentals and footwork and stance and things like that."

After a 5-4 record a year ago, Schlemmer took advantage of every opportunity in the summer to get a jump on this upcoming season, and cited the use of the summer months in being able to have his players become familiar with the playbook well before Monday's first practice of the season.

The lack of play-learning sessions especially pleased seasoned players like senior Ty Shetter, who is excited about the direction the Golden Warriors are headed, and appreciates being able to work on crucial parts of the game right away with his teammates all on the same page.

"We're just bringing more enthusiasm already than past years," Shetter said. "We're going through a little scheme already, but obviously it's only the first day so we still have a ways to go. But it feels pretty good to be back out here."

Shetter will be playing both sides of the ball this season. On offense he will be a wide receiver, and he will play some cornerback on the defensive side of the ball, along with safety in various packages, so he has been busy learning the intricacies of Schlemmer's plan.

The ability to start working on specific plays and scheme during the first day of practice allows players who are on the bubble for a starting spot ample time to show their skills and make a case for playing time by the Aug. 29 season opener at Metamora.

"There is a lot of them for sure," Schlemmer said of the position battles. "Looking across our depth chart, we have a lot of guys that are going to compete, and those guys will have a lot of chances to go out and prove themselves."

•••

At Newman, it was business as usual. Head coach Mike Papoccia termed the Comets' first practice as "really smooth."

"The kids were ready to go," he said. "I was very pleased with their attitudes, and they worked hard. Every coach in the state is going to say their kids worked hard today, but I was really happy with the way our kids got after it."

There were 27 varsity players who practiced on Monday, down from 33 a year ago. A smaller junior class was cited by Papoccia for the drop.

Newman is coming off a 13-1 campaign capped off by a Class 2A state championship, Papoccia's fifth entering his 35th year as head coach. He noted the latest title wasn't even brought up Monday, instead focusing on his current seniors.

"Three years ago, I told our seniors this was going to by really quick," he said, "and now here we are, their senior year. This is their team. It's their turn to write a chapter in the book, and we'll go as far as they take us."

---

Monday marked the final, first football practice of Jacob Mammosser's high school career, and the Rock Falls senior wanted to make an impression on his younger teammates.

The Rockets did a lot of fundamental drills, including route running during the first practice of the season, and Mammosser helped with tips offered from a fellow athletes' perspective.

"Really, my job is to help teach the [receivers], and how to do it, and what I expect of the receivers," the senior quarterback said. "How I want them to run the routes is important, too."

At the varsity level the drills were more of a refresher course, but it helped snap players into football mode after a summer spent re-learning plays and conditioning for on-field work.

The Rockets also plan to use the next several weeks of practice before their Aug. 29 season opener against Harvard, to act more like a cohesive unit after a 1-8 finish a season ago. Mammosser describes it as "just acting more like a team."

"It helps a lot," Mammosser said of the fundamental and team-building work. "Once game time comes we will know how we're going to do everything, and it will really decrease the mistakes.

"That's mainly what it's all about."

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