Since the IHSAA has allowed an increase in football activity in June and July, most high school football teams have put in considerable work before the first day of official practice.
That day came Monday for teams across the state, including Columbus East and Columbus North. The teams took the field in preparation for the upcoming season, which begins Aug. 19.
“Even though you do a lot of things in the summer now, real practice is real practice and is a little bit more demanding as far as what we want our kids to do, and they responded pretty well,” said Bob Gaddis, who is entering his 16th year as East’s head coach and his 38th overall.
East practiced for four hours Monday morning, with some of that time spent in meetings. North practiced for an hour and 15 minutes in the morning and another hour and 15 minutes in the afternoon.
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While the players donned helmets, pads were absent. Full pads and contact aren’t allowed until Wednesday.
“It’s a process,” said Tim Bless, who is entering his 17th year at North. “Anymore, you get a lot done in the summer, so it’s not like we’re starting from scratch like back in the old days. We didn’t have to install anything schematically because that’s all in. It’s just a matter of trying to sharpen our execution and work hard on conditioning.”
Bless put his team through an 11-on-11 walk-through segment, special teams segments with kickoff and kickoff return, a position fundamental segment and a conditioning segment.
When the Bull Dogs weren’t going as hard as Bless wanted during the 11-on-11 segment in the morning, he cut that short and put them through a series of sprints.
“Everybody in our program has high expectations based on a solid year in 2015 and the number of returning starters we have and the offseason that we’ve had,” Bless said. “So maybe in a normal year, this morning’s look would have been OK, but that’s not the aspiration this year. We don’t want to be just OK. Like anybody else, they need pushed and prodded along, and having a little bit of time off last week, they were a little bit rusty this morning.”
North senior running back Mitchell Burton, who has committed to Miami (Ohio), said the team had been doing short sprints during summer workouts. Now that practice has started, they’re doing 40-yard sprints.
“It started out a little rough with conditioning, but I think our guys are just getting used to the heat, putting the helmet on and everything,” Burton said.
The Bull Dogs are coming off a 6-4 season. They started 6-1 before falling to three ranked opponents, including eventual Class 6A state champion Center Grove in the sectional.
The Olympians went 11-1, falling to eventual 5A state runner-up New Palestine in the sectional final.
“I’ve definitely missed it since our last game,” said East senior center Harry Crider, who has committed to Virginia. “It’s great to finally be out here for official practice, and we’re definitely excited for this year. Our seniors are starting to realize that it’s our job to lead the team now. This is our team, so I think that definitely set in today.”
Like North, East did a lot of conditioning Monday. The Olympians also did some fundamental work in groups and ended practice with special teams work.
Gaddis and his staff installed most of the base offense and defense over the summer.
“Right now, you’re just working on fundamental technique,” Gaddis said. “We’re just taking care of ourselves now. We’re not worrying about opponents.”
Both teams will play scrimmages Aug. 12. North will host Greenwood, while East travels to Martinsville.
The regular season begins the following week. The Bull Dogs host Franklin, and the Olympians host Bloomington North.
“Like I told our players, we’re where we need to be, but we’re not where we want to be yet,” Gaddis said. “That’s why you practice. You practice to get better every day.”