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Football teams work through early challenges as fall practice begins

Published: Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 10:10 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 8:52 a.m. CDT
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Batavia players practice blocking during their first day of practice Monday at the school.
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Geneva players get sprayed down with water during a break in practice Monday at Good Templar Park in Geneva.
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St. Charles North's Justin Skwierawski makes a catch during the first day of practice Monday at the school.

Morning rain forced the St. Charles East football team indoors for a portion of practice. Tending to a player's ankle sprain delayed St. Charles North's afternoon workout. Evening lightning sent Marmion and Kaneland players and coaches scurrying for shelter inside the school.

Preseason football practice began throughout the area Monday, and teams had an early opportunity to test their problem-solving skills ahead of their Aug. 29 season openers.

"We had to come off the field, but we're still going to get stuff done," Marmion coach Dan Thorpe said. "So the varsity got their weightlifting in and the freshmen and sophomores are watching the mandatory IHSA concussion video right now."

Preseason practice launched two days before the traditional Wednesday start-up, helping compensate for tighter IHSA restrictions on preseason practice time. The IHSA disposed of the traditional two-a-day sessions to open preseason camp and banned summer tackling as part of a recent flurry of player safety measures.

"It'll be interesting with the two extra days," said Geneva coach Rob Wicinski, whose team again opened its preseason off campus, at Good Templar Park. "You know, you always feel you don't have enough days, and I'm sure I'll feel I still don't have enough days, even with the two extra days.

"I'm ready to get moving and the coaches keep telling me, 'Just take a deep breath. You've got a lot of time.' But it just feels like 18 days is going to come around pretty fast, so I'm always a little bit anxious about that stuff."

Another Rob – second-year St. Charles North coach Rob Pomazak – also intends to put the next two-plus weeks to good use. Despite plenty of summer progress, the tail end of Monday's practice made it clear the North Stars are from a finished product, as route confusion marred an offensive sequence.

"We just put our 2-minute drill in [during a camp at North Central College] so that's one thing we kind of expected to be something that's still not perfect," Pomazak said. "By no means do we expect things to be perfect right now.

"I think some of the route mishaps were from the second group, and that just goes to show you why it's important that everybody knows what they're doing, whether you're a first-stringer or a second-stringer or a scout team player."

At St. Charles East, new coach Bryce Farquhar reported an encouraging response to the groundwork he's attempting to lay after being promoted from the sophomore level to replace Mike Fields.

"Just setting what your priorities are," Farquhar said. "Hustling on the field, helping your teammates out ... you're just trying to set those things. Our kids have been great about it."

Farquhar already played the part of grizzled coaching veteran, taking a guarded approach to discussing various roles for the upcoming season, even mentioning four players in the mix for the quarterback job.

"We have competitions every day," Farquhar said. "If you're to the point that you don't have competition, really, you're going to have a flat team. We have kids that are trying to challenge for spots on a daily basis."

East briefly shifted inside at the start of practice Monday morning because of wet fields but mostly stayed on schedule. Much to the players' delight, practice featured a booming soundtrack, a new touch this season.

"From wrestling and stuff, we always had music, and then after we went to the [team camp at Western Illinois University last month], they had it, so the whole team kind of wanted to push for it," East senior Ramon Lopez said.

When it comes to making noise around the Tri-Cities football scene in recent years, nobody does it better than defending IHSA Class 6A state champion Batavia. Bulldogs coach Dennis Piron detected no drop-off in the program's sense of purpose in the aftermath of the program's first state title.

"These guys have worked as hard as any group we've ever had, if not harder," Piron said. "I always felt the class we had last year, those seniors were a special group. These guys have always had to work to prove themselves for those guys to accept them, and clearly they accepted the underclassmen last year and built a great team together. I think that work ethic, and how hard they've had to work to get the things they've wanted in athletics, in school, they're a very, very bright class."

And a class that appears to be better at hitting opponents than hitting the sack. Batavia offensive lineman Patrick Gamble already has a sleep deficit to address.

"Well, I try to go to bed early, but that doesn't really happen, because the anticipation factor," Gamble said. "You're just ready to go. I was up at 5:30 this morning, and we had to be here at 8. I was just ready, you know. Just sitting at my house, getting all my gear ready. It's exactly that. It's like Christmas Eve. It's nothing like a game, but it's still the excitement."

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