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Players embrace 1st day of football practice with enthusiasm

| Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, 10:45 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Kittanning Wildcats, senior Logan Robb, pulls the team together during the first day of football practice, Monday August 11, 2014.

High school football practices opened up Monday, and so did the skies.

A heavy afternoon downpour made the first day of camp a soggy one for local teams, but that did little to deter coaches and players who have worked all summer toward the season's first live practice.

Kittanning opened with two sessions on their Rayburn Township practice field. Defense took center stage in the morning practice, and offense was left to battle the elements in the second workout.

“It was a typical day one. Guys get excited to be out here, and with that excitement, a little bit of the technique goes out the window because they're ready to hit one another,” Kittanning coach Frank Fabian said. “But for effort and enthusiasm, it was very good for a day one, even working through the rain.”

Fabian' players ended their afternoon session with a series of head-to-head, 100-yard sprints that brought the competitiveness out of his players.

More than anything, the players appeared to be happiest to go through their team offense and defense periods against actual opposition from a scout team.

“It's nice to be able to hit something other than a garbage can in drills,” senior lineman Brady Kirkwood said. “Tomorrow, we'll get to do Oklahomas (a hitting drill), and that's always a fun thing. I'm real excited to get started, and hopefully we go out with a bang this year.”

Kirkwood might be disappointed to find out that his counterparts at West Shamokin got a head start on the Oklahoma drill, which the Wolves used to kick off their first live session of the day. With two sessions complete, West Shamokin coach Jon McCullough is happy with the way his players responded to live action.

“It wasn't bad for a first day. We aren't where we need to be yet, but as long as we continue to improve, we'll be fine,” McCullough said. “Other than a few (bad) snaps and some little things, our guys pushed through the rain. If it rains on a Friday night, we'll have to deal with it, so it's good to work on being an all-weather team.”

One thing both McCullough and Fabian talked about was the importance of live practices for players trying to earn a spot in the lineup.

Fabian reminded his younger players after practice that camp was their chance to impress the coaches and earn a spot in the lineup or on special teams, while McCullough said his players know there are positions up for grabs.

“We saw that we have some younger kids who are going to compete for spots,” McCullough said. “There's four or five positions where there's some real competition to start, and I think that's good.”

Both the Wolves and Wildcats share high expectations coming off last season. West Shamokin earned its first playoff berth ever with a 6-3 regular season, while Kittanning's 9-0 regular season earned the school its first conference title since 1976.

But with the first crack of the pads for practice in the 2014 season, both teams realize those achievements are part of history. They, like Ford City, Apollo-Ridge, Freeport and the rest of the Allegheny Conference, begin with a clean slate.

“Last season is in the past, and our coach always says the good Lord put our eyes on the front of our head so we could see forward,” Kirkwood said. “Last year's seniors wrote their chapter in the book, and now it's time for us to write ours.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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