High school football teams across area begin camp
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Whether the fall ends with a championship or just a few wins, Monday will be looked back upon as the starting point.
Monday was the official start of practice for the new school year. For local football teams, that means the start of two-a-day practices, live hitting drills and everything else needed in the build-up to opening night Aug. 30.
Warm, sunny weather made the day a perfect one to begin practice — at least it did until a brief, heavy rainfall hit after 6 p.m. — but by that point, most local teams had wrapped a first day filled with optimism about the new season.
“It was really good to get back to the grind. We've got a good team, and I think we're getting there,” Ford City senior Chantz Schrecengost said.
“It felt good to be in full pads again. We had a good practice today, and we're moving forward,” Kittanning senior Shawn Shaner said.
The first full-contact drills often are a highlight for players, but coaches aren't always comfortable with turning players loose right away.
Injuries are a concern whenever players go live, and at Ford City, where turnout for the start of practice was lower than in previous years, coach John Bartolovic and his staff emphasized proper form over pop.
Ford City began its second practice of the day, a defense-oriented session, with more than 20 minutes of form tackling drills that included the entire team.
While the coaching points offered related more to keeping heads up and hips low, the players still embraced the chance to create the season's first collisions.
“We're really excited to start hitting,” Schrecengost said prior to the Sabers' second practice. “Most of the people out here are battling for positions, so with less people, that's more work everyone has to put in.”
At Kittanning, defense is the focus of the team's morning session, which means more of the hitting comes early.
Coach Frank Fabian's concern on the first day is that his players get so eager to hit for the first time that “technique goes out the window.” So while he and his staff also focus on good tackling form, they also provide their players an early opportunity to take out their aggression.
“The first practice, the one thing that we do — and if we don't do it at the beginning, we do it at the end — is Oklahomas,” Shaner said. “We always have to get those in.”
The Oklahoma drill — a hitting drill that pits players against each other in a small corridor of space — is a mainstay at football practices at all levels. Fabian employs that classic staple at Kittanning, but the Wildcats' camp also features the more modern touch of music during practices.
Fabian laughed when he recalled how the idea of playing music during practice was a point of disagreement between himself and Redbank Valley coach Ed Wasilowski when the two coached together at Redbank, but Fabian said he thinks it helps the players stay loose but focused during camp.
No matter the specifics of each team's camp, at which the drills and coaching styles are many, players everywhere share the thought that Monday was the first step toward posting a winning fall for their school.
“Everyone gets more intense when camp begins,” Shaner said. “Before you even put the pads on in the morning, your adrenaline is really pumping about starting to hit, and it just goes up from there.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.
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