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At Deer Lakes, starting early means beginning late

| Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010

Midnight madness is coming to Deer Lakes.

Borrowing a tradition from college basketball, the Lancers will open practice in full pads at the earliest possible moment allowed by the WPIAL: 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Coach Todd Hazlett is trying to generate buzz for a 40-year-old program that is seeking its first WPIAL playoff berth. By getting an early start, the Lancers appear eager to shake that burden this year.

"We're pretty excited," senior lineman Cam Posney said. "It will be a good team-bonding effort. I've been waiting for this all summer."

WPIAL teams have held conditioning sessions and playing in seven-on-seven leagues throughout the summer. Starting tomorrow, preparation for the regular-season openers Sept. 3 will become more physical, with players being permitted to block and tackle.

Hazlett envisions a New Year's Eve-like atmosphere.

"We're going to flip on the lights at midnight and practice for about two hours," he said.

After the initial practice, the players will bed down in the gym. They'll get an early breakfast, provided by the booster club, and hold their second practice from about 7 to 9:30 a.m.

Starting Tuesday, Deer Lakes will resume a more typical schedule and practice three times a day between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Hazlett, who played at Deer Lakes and Bucknell, got his idea from his time in the South. He was an assistant at South Carolina powerhouse Byrnes High School from 1997 to 2001; he said the school usually practiced early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the midday heat.

Since it has been unusually warm in Western Pennsylvania this summer, midnight practice seemed like a good fit. Hazlett said spectators at the late-night practice are welcome; some parents and others have told him they plan to stop by.

"I think it will create a good buzz," Posney said. "Everyone's been putting us down. Hopefully, this will help build more fan support."

Three other local teams will leave the comfort of home for the first week of camp. Kiski Area, along with a few other WPIAL teams, will practice at Slippery Rock University. Last year, the Cavaliers spent the first week at Pitt-Johnstown.

Troy Wilson, who enters his second season as Kiski Area coach, said taking his players away from home helps them focus on football.

"We can get their total, undivided attention," he said. "They've got football and film, and they can do things together to build camaraderie."

Burrell and Valley will return to the same sites they have gone to in recent years: Burrell will practice at Antiochian Village in Bolivar, and Valley will work out at Bishop Connare Center in Greensburg.

"I think it's a great thing," Valley coach Troy Hill said. "It allows kids who have never been out of New Kensington to get out. It helps build the team."

Additional Information:

Going camping

WPIAL football teams are allowed to hold practice in full pads beginning Monday. A look at where each of the 15 local teams will open camp:

» Antiochian Village, Bolivar: Burrell

» Bishop Connare Center, Greensburg: Valley

» Slippery Rock University: Kiski Area

» Home field: Apollo-Ridge, Deer Lakes, Ford City, Fox Chapel, Freeport, Highlands, Kittanning, Knoch, Leechburg, Plum, Riverview, Springdale

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