Wednesday marked the first day of official preseason football practice statewide, but St. Charles East linebacker Michael Candre felt more like he was tackling a track and field meet when the Saints convened in the morning.
Saints players were plenty warmed up by the time they hit the football practice field, having stretched out earlier to the tune of 800-meter runs.
That’s runs, not jogs, gentlemen.
“I’m a get there kind of person, I’m not a keep running and running kind of person,” Candre said. “It kills me. I hate it. Once I heard that, I’m like ‘OK, that’s not right.’ ”
Candre and hundreds of his peers throughout the Tri-Cities area hope those not-so-pleasurable moments of the preseason add up to something magical come the last weekend of August, when the season begins.
For Batavia, the theme of the first day of practice was how quickly it all will be over.
“It’s gonna go quick,” coach Dennis Piron told his team.
Piron’s message, particularly for his seniors, was that the 2013 season would be finished before they knew it. And with it, so will the football careers of many of his players.
To emphasize that point, Piron instructed his players and coaches alike to bring in pictures of themselves playing youth football.
“My thought is, more than anything, I just want them to think about where they’ve come from, how this community has always supported them, how their family and their friends have been there with them all in this together,” Piron said.
“But more importantly, how fast time goes. And before they know it, it’ll be Week 7, Week 9, playoffs. It goes that quickly, so let’s take advantage of every second that we have out here together to get better as football players, to become closer as friends and to really enjoy a special time of their lives, which you only get to do so many times. And as seniors, it’ll be the last time they do this together as a group, obviously, for the rest of their lives.”
The IHSA’s new restrictions on preseason practice schedules – teams are allowed only three hours of practice time each of the first five days – might be an advantage for veteran teams like Kaneland.
“It was really good today,” Kaneland linebacker Gary Koehring said. “With all the new rule changes that the state put on, we’ve just got to get everything in a shorter amount of time, which is good, I think. We’re an experienced enough team where this doesn’t really affect us as much as, you know, some other team [that may be less experienced].”
Veteran Geneva coach Rob Wicinski took the IHSA’s new preseason “acclimatization” policies as a challenge.
“It’s actually gotten my staff focused,” Wicinski said. “We get everything we need to get done in an hour and a half. I’m more towards that, anyways. I’ve been trying to push them that way. I don’t like being out here much more than two hours.”
St. Charles North dealt with the added hurdle of first-year coach Rob Pomazak’s mandatory new-teacher training sessions, so the North Stars pushed their main, outdoor session to 4:30 p.m.
“I talked to a lot of coaches and nobody really knew how to handle [the new policies],” Pomazak said. “It’s so new and it’s so different from what we’re all used to that it’s kind of like you write a plan up, you look at it and you throw it away, and then you write another one up.”
Then again, starting from scratch is exactly what some programs crave this time of year.
Marmion is one of those teams exhibiting extra focus after a subpar 2012 season.
As soon as each player arrived on the practice field Wednesday afternoon, he’d set his helmet down and instantly dash off to join his teammates.
Whether they were throwing passes around or catching up since the last time they saw one another, the Cadets backed up players’ contentions that they’re a more cohesive group this fall.
When coach Dan Thorpe blew the first whistle, the group of players took a knee, almost as one.
“You don’t get much sleep last night,” Thorpe said. “You run a lot of things through your head. You’ve got the butterflies. There’s not a person out here who doesn’t have the butterflies, whether it be players, coaches, trainers. So it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time.”
Candre, projected to be among the leaders of East’s defense, is all for excitement – he’d just prefer it come on the football field rather than the track.
But Candre knows he better get used to running those 800s; the Saints will be timed in subsequent weeks to see whether they can shave a little time off their efforts from Wednesday.
At least Candre won’t feel ambushed the next time around.
“It killed me,” Candre said. “Once I found out we were on the track, I wanted to cry.”