Suburban high schools start football practice
The calendar may say August but with the cool weather, it feels more like fall.
And with the opening of the high school football season Wednesday, that seasonal feeling has intensified even more.
"I have been thinking about this day since the middle of winter," Fremd senior linebacker Stephen Walsh said. "All the lifting and the hard work we have put in during the off-season comes together today."
Walsh and nearly a thousand area high school football players took to the field for the first time on Wednesday in preparation for their first game Aug. 30.
The players and coaches all enjoyed the cool temperatures as the gridders went through their opening season routines in just helmets.
"You know we are going to get hammered with 95 degrees on the night of our first game," Fremd coach Lou Sponsel said. "You can't control that. We will just keep working to prepare for anything."
Fremd offensive tackle Brad Ruehrdanz said he missed out on the heat, but only because of the ability to overcome it during practice.
"It makes you proud that you can fight through a hot practice," said Ruehrdanz, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 270 pounds. "But it is beautiful out. On a hot day the big dogs can lose 5 pounds. It is nice for the big dogs to cool off."
Palatine linebacker Steve Smearman was so cold that he wore a sweater to practice Wednesday morning.
"It was really cold when I got here," Smearman said. "But I warmed up quick. It is fun being back out here after a two-week break."
New Palatine coach Rick Splitt arrived before 7 a.m. on his first official day of practice. When he got to the school he was surprised to find his squad dressed and ready to go for their 7:30 a.m. start.
"I got to the school early and they were all here ready to go," said Splitt, who is taking over for Tyler Donnelly, who stepped down as head coach after leading the team to the Class 8A quarterfinals. "That is the kind of excitement we have going on here. Last year was phenomenal. We got on the field today raring to go."
The threat of the usual August heat had prompted Illinois High School Association officials to change the traditional two-a-day practices beginning this season
Before this season, teams would practice at least twice per day, with practices lasting from 2-3 hours for each session. Now teams are allowed just 3 hours of practice per day for the first 5 days of the season. And the first two days of practices are with helmets only.
"I think the first day went well," Buffalo Grove coach Mike DiMatteo said. "There is always a bit of rust coming off of summer camp. But the attitude was good and I think that is the most important thing."
Buffalo Grove quarterback Andrew Apel was thrilled to be out on the turf early this morning.
"Our energy was there," Apel said. "It was great to get back to swing of things. We were ready to go and keep improving throughout practice."
Sponsel, like many coaches, gave their players an extended break with the new IHSA schedule in place.
"We gave the kids a 20-day vacation," Sponsel said. "We wanted fresh minds and fresh bodies. We went hard all summer."
With the limited time on the field, coaches like St. Viator's Brandon New has a schedule of activities both on and off the field that are so well choreographed it looks like a Broadway play.
"It is exciting, but it is a big adjustment with the new IHSA restrictions on practice time," said New, whose team qualified for the state playoffs last season. "But we know what we want to accomplish each day and our kids are ready and focused."
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