'Pumped up': Glenbrook players take field for first day of football practice
It's one of the most anticipated days on the high school sports calendar.
The first day of football practice.
On that day -- Aug. 7 this year in Illinois -- all teams are even in the standings and all have reasons for optimism.
Seven-on-seven competitions, weight room sessions and team summer camps have their value, but that first day seems more meaningful.
"I can speak for myself and the whole team, that we've had a lot of sleepless nights just wishing for this day," said Glenbrook South senior Jake Rueckert, who made a lot of big plays at defensive end in 2022.
The same might be said for Kelly Purdy, wife of Glenbrook North football coach Matt Purdy. At least the part about sleepless nights.
Later on Monday the couple would host the team's linemen for the Hog Barbecue, a 20-year tradition. Matt Purdy is only in his fifth year as head coach, but he assisted retired Spartans coach Bob Pieper for 22 seasons -- and he's an old lineman himself, so he knows hogs and beef.
"There'll be probably 100 hamburgers and 80 hot dogs eaten," Purdy said. "The amount of food is out of control."
Gaining control of offensive and defensive schemes is the point of these practices leading up to Week 1 games, which for Glenbrook South comes Aug. 25 hosting York. Glenbrook North visits Lane Tech on Aug. 26.
Glenbrook South graduated 11 players who were voted onto the Central Suburban League South All-Conference Team, all seniors. A couple key Titans coaches also retired, those handling both the offensive line (Matt Johlie) and defensive line (Steve Stanicek).
The early goal is not to click like last season's 10-1 Titans team, but to get everyone "up to speed," eighth-year head coach Dave Schoenwetter said.
"We had a great summer and I felt we made a ton of progress. So as we get to the start of the season, we're seeing, can we pick up close to where we left off?" he said.
"In terms of scheme, assignments, I thought we were pretty close to where we were at the end of July (summer camp).
At New Trier, the number of players has reached a historic level for a football program that began in 1925, according to Illinois High School Association records.
Trevians coach Brian Doll said 230 students have signed up for football, including more than 70 sophomores and nearly 70 freshmen. That sophomore number is a record.
"There's a little bit of a helmet problem, but we're working on that right now," said Doll, who with the help of the North Shore Trevians feeder program has exceeded the number of players in his first season 10 years ago.
Doll believes that in the wake of COVID concerns, parents also apparently are more comfortable with safety issues due to concussions.
High school football seemed in peril after a 2017 Boston University study found 99% of a sample of former NFL players' brains were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It launched numerous best-practices around concussions.
"I'm really excited about the future of football in our community," Doll said.
At Glenbrook North's William Lutz Stadium, Purdy caught the first-practice bug sufficiently to shed his shirt and join the boys in a shuttle-run conditioning drill.
"My hamstrings are not happy," he said.
Though the rest of him was.
"I'm excited about where we are. Obviously the key part to anything in this game is to stay healthy," Purdy said.
"The guys have great energy. You walk out there, practice starts at 8 (a.m.) and guys are buzzing on the field at 7:30. That reflects our leadership," he said, crediting senior captains Mathew Gasior, Jack Philbin and Patrick Schaller. Philbin and Schaller are two-year varsity captains.
Schaller, an all-conference tight end headed to Northwestern, confirmed that on the first official day of the 2023 football season, energy was high.
"We're just pretty pumped up," he said. "Everyone's helping each other out, just being there for one another -- having a family, being a team. Not working just for yourself but working for one another. It's a good thing."