St. Edward football coach Mike Rolando said Wednesday he might have panicked had the IHSA's new practice acclimatization rules taken effect in a previous season.
Instituted this year to better acclimate high school players to the heat which so often accompanies the first practices of August, the new rules limited Wednesday's on-field practice time to three hours as teams statewide began preparations for kickoff weekend: Aug. 30-31.
In fact, players can't don full pads until the sixth day of practice (next Tuesday) when on-field sessions can expand to five hours per day (with a mandatory two-hour break after three hours).
In the case of St. Edward, where classes begin next Tuesday, the new policy has virtually eliminated the traditional two-a-day practice regime. Rolando -- now among the area's most veteran coaches as he enters his ninth season -- says he's OK with the new rules, mainly because he has confidence in his 2013 squad.
"What the kids have done over the summer has really put us in a good place," Rolando said. "Normally, I'd be like 'Oh my gosh, we don't have any double sessions because of the new IHSA rules, and we won't even be in pads one time before school starts.' I'd probably be panicked.
"But because of the participation and progress we made over the summer I feel good where we're at. If we had to play this Friday, I'd be comfortable with it. I'm usually a little more reserved, but this year I'm very confident."
Rolando's optimism partly stems from a varsity roster of 30 that includes only two sophomore call-ups. That's a strong number for St. Edward, where varsity participation dipped to the low twenties last season. That number slipped below 20 eligible players some weeks due to multiple injuries. Rolando has coached just one other 30-man roster in his previous eight seasons at the Elgin Catholic school.
"It's almost unheard of around here to have 30," he said. "And we have depth, too. Sometimes you might have 30 on the roster but maybe 15 really have an impact. But this is probably the deepest team we've ever had. We have adequate subs and depth at some key positions. That competition forces the kids to work harder and prove a little more in practice, which only makes us better."
In shape and ready to go: Class 6A state runner-up Cary-Grove opened fall practice Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. with a Trojan tradition: the Miami mile conditioning test.
Each player had to run 16 100-meter dashes in a given time frame in order to demonstrate his readiness for the rigors of practices to come. It marked the first time the Trojans have practiced as a unit since summer camp at Wisconsin-Whitewater concluded on July 24.
"I felt like our kids came back in real good physical shape," coach Brad Seaburg said. "The kids were where they needed to be for the most part and that's a good sign."
Cary-Grove, which, according to Seaburg, has essentially followed the same practice plan for the last decade, must adjust to the new IHSA acclimatization rules just like every other team. The Trojans used to practice 4½ to 5 hours a day during the first week, but the new rules limit them to three hours initially.
"I view it like taxes," Seaburg said. "There are things you have to do. When the IHSA says you have to do something, you have to do it. We really have to value the practice time we have and demand our kids practice at a real high level because we typically practice really fast. For me as a head coach, it just makes you rethink how you're doing things."
His turn: The quarterback position is key in every offense, and Huntley coach John Hart's system is no exception.
Hart tabbed Kameron Sallee to play the position last season, and Sallee threw for 1,444 yards, rushed for 656 more and had a hand in 28 touchdowns. Not coincidentally, the Red Raiders won 6 games and took Fenwick to the wire in a 10-9, first-round playoff loss.
With the versatile Sallee now playing football and baseball at Division-III Beloit College, the job belongs to senior Blake Jacobs, Sallee's backup last season, who Hart said "closed the gap between he and Kam considerably" during his junior year.
Though Jacobs saw limited action last season (6-of-6, 129 yards, 1 TD), his coach is confident he will excel due to his combination of intelligence and accuracy.
"In Blake we now have a kid in his second year of making reads who is understanding defenses, understanding coverages and understanding alignments," Hart said. "That is so much a part of our game that it will really help out our offense. He'll get the ball where it needs to be at the right time and accurately."
Westminster Christian takes the field: In keeping with the Westminster Christian philosophy of putting others before yourself, the first official varsity practice in the school's history was designed to remind the players of the meaning of service. While future practices will be held at Westminster's Elgin campus, Wednesday's inaugural practice took place at Riverwoods Christian Center in St. Charles.
"We combined our practice with serving," said Warriors coach John Davis, who previously coached for 10 years in South Elgin youth leagues. "Our conditioning time was used to serve by moving some dirt and helping to build some roads. The guys were working hard."
The Warriors played junior varsity games last season at Hampshire High School, but will play their home games on campus beginning Saturday, Sept. 7 against visiting Mooseheart. Westminster will play on Saturday afternoons for the time being, though temporary lights will be rented for the school's first homecoming game on Friday, Oct. 4 against Rockford Christian Life, Davis said. The Warriors play their first varsity game on the road, at Luther North on Aug. 31.
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