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The Blitz

High school football: First day of practice important, but real preparation for season begins long before two-a-days

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    Lorain players receive instruction as they run through drills at their new turf field on Monday, the first official day of practice.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria Catholic head coach Brian Fox runs the first day of practice July 30.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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    Elyria Catholic players run through a session of Panther Ball at the first day of practice July 30.

    STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE

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In what has become a summer staple on par with family barbecues and running after the ice cream truck, high school football programs were allowed to step onto the field for their first practices Monday.

While it was the first time players were allowed to participate in full-squad football activities, many Lorain County coaches agreed that the bulk of the upcoming season’s preparation has been completed by the time August rolls around.

“We try to have about 90 percent of our stuff installed by the time we get to two-a-days,” Midview coach D.J. Shaw said between the Middies’ two afternoon sessions. “When we get to two-a-days, we kind of hit that reset button. The kids have seen it. They’ve seen it on the board, they’ve watched film, they’ve repped it during our minicamps.”

Shaw said the players and coaches begin the offseason process in December, just a month after the previous season’s completion. Players start hitting the weight room and doing speed training, and the coaches are allowed to work with individuals during open gyms as long as they keep the number of athletes and sessions below the numbers set by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

“That continues throughout the spring,” Shaw said. “The coaches meet offensively and defensively once a week. We’re watching film from last year, making tweaks to what we’re doing, kind of breaking things down a little bit more than we had time to do last year during the regular season.

“Then once we get to the summer, the kids are grinding in the weight room, speed training, a lot of conditioning is going on, and then we’re allowed those 10 contact days.”

Avon uses its allotted days to attend clinics and learn the systems they will work to perfect over the next four weeks.

“Every day that we’ve got in June and July — there are 10 instructional days — they were scripted,” Eagles coach Mike Elder said after Avon’s second morning session. “We already introduced our offense and defense through those days and now when we get into the two-a-days we just go back and restart and pay more attention to detail.

“By the time we get here, our kids that aren’t going to put in the effort have already weeded themselves out. They did that in February, March, April. They stopped showing up for morning liftings, stopped going to speed workouts. What you see now is the product of some kids that have already invested.”

Elder said it’s that nine-month offseason development that is the real payoff for the Eagles coaching staff.

“Seeing those players that were good for you a year ago even progress and get better is fun, but what’s even more fun is those kids that played JV football who dumped their heart and soul into it during the offseason and now they’re going to get their first varsity action,” he said. “You can just see a kid that if they were playing for you a year ago they would have been a liability on Friday nights, and here we are 365 days later and they have a chance to be all-conference or All-Ohio. That’s a lot of fun.”

The lifting, speed drills, open gyms and contact days have all become part of what it takes for a high school program to find success in today’s ultra-competitive environment. That doesn’t mean the year-round work is embraced by everyone.

“With the rules now in high school — you get these 10 camp days and they allow you to get certain number of guys in drills starting in the spring — I honestly feel like we do way too much,” Lorain coach Dave McFarland said during a break between the Titans’ two night sessions. “The kids should be at Cedar Point and enjoying their summers, and now they should make a 100 percent commitment to football because it’s August.”

Lorain is coming off back-to-back playoff appearances and three in the last four seasons. McFarland is starting to see some bonus payoffs from the past success.

“We had a lot of alumni back here, which is kind of nice because when we came here there wasn’t anybody watching these kids practice,” he said. “The guys who built it are coming back around and talking to them. It’s inspirational for our kids because these are guys that played for us and now they are in college. Those are good role models.”

The Titans were also excited about the first day of practice because it took place on the school’s new state-of-the-art turf field — complete with a pair of Browns helmet logos on the 30-yard lines thanks to Cleveland’s NFL team that donated the field.

“That turf field is nice, and it’s nice in the summer because you have lines for spacing and for drill work,” McFarland said.

While the veteran coaches were tweaking the Day 1 routines they have used in the past, Elyria Catholic first-year coach Brian Fox was preparing for his first day on the field with the Panthers.

“The best thing is that we have an incredible senior class,” Fox said before the Panthers’ first afternoon session. “So even though we are trying to get all this new stuff going — changing the offense and changing the defense — they have gotten probably three times the practice reps on their own just because they are organizing it.”

Being the new guy, Fox was approached by several people close to the program and was offered help in getting the football operations up and running.

“They gave me a list of important people in the program to talk to and that list was about 40 people long,” Fox said. “So I was just cold-calling people like I was recruiting back in college.

“Our theme for the year is ‘Wake up the echoes,’ because throughout my meetings with the guys they felt like they had gotten away from things that had made the program great, some of the traditions — Victory Camp being one of them — and that’s something we’re really trying to get back to.

“The people surrounding the program is what really makes it special … it’s been spectacular so far.”

Contact Shaun Bennett at 329-7137 or sbennett@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @ShaunBennettct on Twitter.



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