NEW MADISON – The excitement has been building all summer as the official start of the high school football season got closer and closer.
Now it’s here. On Monday, teams all across Ohio held their first official practice of the 2018 season. Here in Darke County practice times varied for each of the eight schools some with morning practice and others with afternoon and evening schedules.
In New Madison, Tri-Village was out on the field at 8:30 a.m., and according to coach Robert Burk, there was plenty of excitement in getting things going.
“We are really excited about this team,” said Burk, whose Patriots posted a 3-7 record a season ago. “We are going to be really, really young. We graduated 10 seniors from last year’s team and they will be hard to replace, but our freshmen class is really strong. We also did a good job of getting into our hallways to get some guys out that haven’t played in a while or have never played. We’ve got a long way to go still, but we’ve worked really hard in the weight room to try and make up some of those strength gaps.”
There was excitement in Greenville too as the Green Wave took to the practice in the afternoon.
“I’m pretty pleased so far with where we are at mentally,” Coach Aaron Shaffer said. “We have a pretty solid understanding of most of our basic stuff. Their effort is good, their energy is good and their want is good so I’m happy with where we are at right now. We just have to keep going.”
A good year in terms of number of players on the team is 60-65, Shaffer said. This year he has 57.
“We have two classes that are a little bit smaller but it fluctuates every year,” he said. “If we are right around 60-65 kids we are in good shape.”
Even though Monday was the first official day of practice, there was plenty of off-season workouts taking place throughout the summer.
“In the summer you try to do a lot of teaching,” Burk said. “We spread our 10 days out rather than have them all at once. We just try to teach and teach and teach especially the young guys, and even the guys who have been here before because when August hits we expect them to know things. The intensity fires up and we try to do things a little faster and take things to that next level.
“It is always fun to get out here and coach some football especially when it’s not 100 degrees,” Burk continued about the cooler weather on Monday. “We stayed busy over the summer, but things always ramp up a bit on the first official day of practice. We had a nice culture at the end of the year last year and our intensity was definitely up today. It was a really good day today and we are going to keep getting better everyday.”
The first few days this week, at least for Shaffer, are just a continuation of summer.
“It’s good to get out and to actually get started into an official practice even though these next three or four days are still a continuation of summer,” Shaffer said. “The good part with that is you get to solidify their understanding of the schemes, work on some of the finer techniques now that they know what they are doing to get us prepared for what will be Saturday when you can really start playing football.”
The same can be said at Arcanum where Jason Schondelmyer and the Trojans finished up their summer schedule last Thursday with a 7-on-7 against Fort Recovery. It was also the last day of their summer camp.
“I think we finished pretty strong,” Schondelmyer said. “The first couple of series we weren’t as physical as we needed to be, but on that last series we made some nice plays and scored three touchdowns and only gave up one so it was really great for us to finish that way.
“But it’s not really a game until after you put pads on so we will see where we are at then,” he added.
There is an acclimation period this week for football teams. Players can only wear helmets the first two days. Shoulder pads can be added on Wednesday and Thursday and then full pads can be worn on Friday. Full contact does not begin until the sixth day of practice.
“The kids have done a really nice job this summer of being competitive, so we are excited about that,” said Schondelmyer, whose team posted a 4-6 record in 2017. “Any time I step on a football field I’m excited. It’s in my DNA, but we were excited about our camp too. We took the kids to Wittenberg (University) this summer and they got to work at those nice facilities, but what we can’t afford to do is have a mental letdown coming back to our own home. Hopefully, we have the energy and focus going forward because football is a grind.”