New coaches get closer look at football teams
No matter the circumstances, T.J. Wiley has viewed the day before the start of high school football training camp as a kind of Christmas Eve for coaches.
“It's always the same,” said Wiley, who led Penn-Trafford in 2009 and Northgate in 2011-12, and whose first season with Deer Lakes officially kicks off Monday. “You always have butterflies.
“I remember even as a 10-year-old waterboy for my dad, I was anxious and excited and couldn't sleep the night before.”
Wiley is one of two new football coaches in the Alle-Kiski Valley area; Plum's Matt Morgan is the other. Both began working with their teams shortly after they were hired in the winter. But their connection with their players will climb to a new level now as practices become mandatory and full-contact action comes into play.
What Wiley plans to do on the first day of practice is no different than what he instructed his players to do at Northgate or Penn-Trafford. And the crux of what he wants on the first day is this: The Lancers must match Wiley's level of intensity.
“We've been pushing these kids like I think they've never been pushed before, and they've really bought into it,” Wiley said. “It was a culture shock at first. But they're used to it now.”
Deer Lakes held weightlifting sessions three times a week shortly after Wiley's hiring in mid-January. In late May, summer conditioning started and continued with four sessions each week. The Lancers also participated in multiple seven-on-seven scrimmages.
Wiley approved of the energy and commitment he witnessed from his players during the offseason. He believes Deer Lakes is capable of long-term success.
But he needs to see how his Lancers handle themselves in full gear. And he doesn't plan to waste any time in finding answers.
“You don't want to lose somebody right in the first couple minutes of practice, but we do want to know who our players are right from the get-go,” said Wiley, who plans to hold Oklahoma drills right after his players complete the stretches that open their 7 a.m. practice schedule.
“I think it's kind of a tease to put the pads on the kids and then make them wait (to hit). We want to make this fun for the kids. This is what they've been working for since January.”
So much spring and summer preparation before a debut season seems like a bit of a luxury for Wiley, who took over Northgate in late June 2011. He had to rush to install a playbook and teach the Flames his way of operating in a short time. With Deer Lakes, he never needed to fret — though the self-described worrier dealt with moments of anxiety anyway.
“My (assistants) would need to remind me, ‘Do you understand how much further ahead we are here than when we were at Northgate?' ” he said.
Northgate enjoyed a turnaround under Wiley; it won 10 games in two seasons after winning six games during the previous four seasons combined. Wiley will know a little better after this week whether Deer Lakes, which won five games in the past two seasons, is on its road to redemption.
“We put them through the wringer (in the offseason), and they always showed up the next day,” Wiley said of the Lancers. “That right there shows me that these kids want this to work and want to get this program headed in the right direction.”