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All four Antelope County football teams hit the field Monday morning for their first official practice of the 2018 season.
The Clearwater/Orchard team opened up its fall practices in Clearwater.
“It was a good first day,” said OC’s 17th-year coach Jeff Shabram. “(We had) a lot of energy and eagerness.”
OC has the largest team of the area with 29 players out for the squad.
“It is a huge benefit having nearly 30 players,” Shabram said. “It promotes competitive drills and allows us to have very intense practices.”
To go along with their large team, the bulk of the Cyclones’ lineup is upperclassmen with 12 seniors leading the way.
“Having 12 seniors is a huge benefit,” Shabram continued. “They've heard the same speeches, been drilled on a lot of the same schemes, and are physically and mentally mature enough to push themselves to another level at practice. We hope the underclassmen can learn good habits from them and we can have the same effect in another three years.”
Neligh-Oakdale hit the ground running Monday with its practice, installing the offense and defense on the first day.
“I thought we did a nice job,” said N-O coach Ron Beacom. “It’s early, we are young and we have a lot to work on, but for a first day I thought our execution was pretty good. We brought a good energy level and that’s all we can ask for this early (in the season).”
Despite having a relatively inexperienced team, the fifth-year mentor still expects to run practice at a high rate for the 21 players listed on the roster.
“We had a summer camp to bring everyone up to speed so we won’t slow down (practice) a lot,” Beacom said. “That’s not our philosophy and the way we want to deal with this. This week is all about teaching and install, so we’ll do whatever we have to do those two things. Everyone came with a pretty good learning attitude today.”
While the Warriors and Cyclones have an abundance of players, Elkhorn Valley and Elgin Public/Pope John XXIII Central Catholic have to deal with smaller squads.
The Falcons have the smallest team with 11 players.
“We’re going to have to be creative with how we approach practice,” said EV third-year coach Brendan Dittmer. “Being physical will be a little bit limited, but the amount of reps they get is going to be more. There are going to be some advantages and disadvantages, but with the creativity we come up with in practice for our defensive and offensive preparations, it might benefit our kids. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Wolfpack lists 13 players on their roster.
“This is something we have had to deal with the last three or four years,” said 15th-year mentor Randy Eisenhauer. “We’ve had 15 to 16 kids out at the most. We’re looking at doing a lot more half-line stuff. We work on the right side for 15 or 20 minutes, then the other side for 15 or 20 minutes so each kid gets reps against a quality opponent. We’re also doing a lot of reps so they get into a routine, so that when a play is called, they know what they’re going to do. We’re doing a lot of things on bags, keep kids healthy and get through the year.”
The good news for the Wolfpack is six of their 13 players have two-plus years of playing experience.
“A lot of these kids have played the past two or three years,” Eisenhauer continued. “They played their freshman or sophomore year. They know everything we expect and we’re throwing in a couple of new things. The kids know what they are doing and the younger kids are gaining knowledge. The kids are picking up and we’re trying to go more up-tempo to get them in shape.”
Both coaches still saw potential on day one from their teams despite the low numbers.
“We did a really good job of doing exactly what we talked about as far as effort in drills,” Dittmer said. “To and from (drills), and even getting a drink, they were jogging and had a purpose in what they were doing. I was pleased with the first day of practice.”
“You never know about the first practice, but the kids were excited,” Eisenhauer added. “The kids worked hard today and came out with a great attitude. Even with 13 guys we pushed them and we’re going to have to push them quite hard to get them in football shape. Their energy and effort went a long ways today.”
Although all Monday’s practices were held in the morning, some of the coaches will shift to more afternoon practices and will deal with the heat as well.
“This time of year is no different than any other year,” Beacom said. “It gets hot, it gets sticky and those types of things. We constantly remind kids to hydrate, get sleep at night and do the things they have to do to take care of their body. On our (the coaches) end, we have to be smart how we structure our practices. All of our coaches had to do a heat acclimatization class, a concussion class and a cardiac arrest class. I feel comfortable with the guys I work with and I think the kids are comfortable enough to let us know if something is not right.”
“In the past we have been good at preparing our kids for the heat in August,” Dittmer said. “In July, we hit five-on-five hard. It’s more of the kids getting together and playing flag football, but it also gets them conditioned for the heat and the ability for their bodies to bounce back and withstand the temperatures.”
All four county squads square off in week one on August 24 with Neligh-Oakdale facing OC at 2:30 p.m. at Clearwater, and the Wolfpack hosting the Falcons at 7 p.m.