Zach Hacker: Football starting early this year
Zach Hacker Daily Globe sports reporter I learned Wednesday that my summer will end a bit earlier than I expected. Kind of. The fact the calendar turned to July prompted me to begin thinking about fall sports. When I looked online to see if area ...
Daily Globe sports reporter
I learned Wednesday that my summer will end a bit earlier than I expected. Kind of.
The fact the calendar turned to July prompted me to begin thinking about fall sports. When I looked online to see if area fall schedules were posted, I was a bit surprised to see that Week 1 of the football season is slated for Saturday, August 22.
The first schedule I looked at was Worthington, and I saw the Trojans were set to take on Luverne on that date. Immediately I thought perhaps they were playing in a “zero week” game like they did in 2014. Upon further examination (i.e. clicking around on the schedules for other schools) I found that is indeed the start date of the regular football season area and statewide.
Though I’m not necessarily disappointed by the change (seriously, what’s not to love about covering football?) I was curious as to why the change was made. After all, the season being pushed up a week means teams will have three games - nearly half of the regular season - in their rearview mirror before Labor Day. I’ve covered seasons that didn’t begin until Labor Day weekend plenty of times. It just seems strange.
Apparently the change was made because TCF Bank Stadium, the site of the Prep Bowl, wasn’t available on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 20-21. That’s the weekend the state title games would normally be held. There’s already a college football juggernaut between the Minnesota Gophers and Illinois Fighting Illini scheduled for the 21st. Moving it back a week to the 28th wouldn’t have worked either, because the Gophers host Wisconsin that day.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment local athletes and coaches will have to make is that to a shortened preseason. In a normal year, practice begins on a Monday three weeks before the first game, with the game taking place the Friday (sometimes Thursday) of that third week. In 2015, teams will only have two weeks to prepare for their opening contest.
The first week of practice usually consists mostly of conditioning along with some team and individual drill work. During the second week, focus shifts more to working on plays and technique. Those four days prior to the game on the third week resemble a normal practice week with a great deal of focus on preparing for that week’s opponent. Teams usually scrimmage on the Saturday of the second week, thereby giving them a chance to work out any kinks prior to Week 1.
This year, that day when teams are normally scrimmaging, they’ll be playing regular season games. That does raise some concern.
State rules mandate that no contact is allowed during the first week of practice. Proper tackling and blocking technique is vital to player safety. With the focus of the second week of practice having to be shifted to the Week 1 opponent, that means less time for the fundamentals.
Not only is a full week being taken away from the players - that is just a one-year adjustment - but state rules on how practice can be conducted have changed and are permanent moving forward.
According to Worthington head coach Brad Grimmius, prior to this year the first two weeks of practice consisted of two-a-days. This is almost universal for high school football teams throughout the country. Worthington typically has its two-a-days by practicing from 8 a.m. until noon every day for those first two weeks prior to the scrimmage. Other coaches opt to practice two hours in the morning and two in the evening.
Moving forward, Grimmius said a team can practice for two hours followed by an hour off of the field. This can be used for lifting weights, watching film, etc. Then they can go back out on the field for two hours. That doesn’t differ much from a normal two-a-day practice. However, if a team does that one day, it is allowed to only practice for two hours the next.
In the same year players and coaches are losing a full week of practice, one-quarter of the time they’ve been able to practice in the past is also taken away.
“That puts our concern as coaches on safety,” Grimmius said. “We’re trying to get those techniques and that safety is the number one concern through to our players, but it puts a damper on what you can do as a head coach. But it’s something that everyone in the state is going through. I’m going to be meeting with our whole coaching staff soon to figure out how we can best utilize our time.”
From a competitive standpoint, as Grimmius stated, it’s something with which every team in the state is dealing (though he did mention that he’s talked to coaches who are holding voluntary practices throughout the summer, which leads me to wonder how “voluntary” they really are.) Worthington has summer speed and strength training and will host its usual team camp later this month.
Almost needless to say, Grimmius said most teams will be operating with a pretty limited playbook Week 1.
“Our goal is always to put a top-notch team out there on Friday nights,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how we can get that done.”
I agree. I think it’s entirely possible fans might notice a little more rust on the players during the first game or two. With the limited practice time being spent on making sure players are using proper technique to ensure safety, I don’t see how they’ll be running like well-oiled machines in Week 1.
It will indeed be interesting.