The thud of pads hitting pads won’t take place for another couple of days, but the Columbus East and Columbus North football teams were glad to be back on the field nonetheless.
Granted, teams have been able to condition and practice to a certain degree throughout most of the summer, and the Olympians and Bull Dogs took full advantage. But the first official day of practice is always a big day.
“It’s been a long offseason,” East senior quarterback Josh Major said. “We’ve been working really hard, but once you get out here — the first day of practice — the intensity is a little higher, and the expectations get a little greater. We’re looking forward to a great year.”
The Olympians went 13-2 last year and won Hoosier Hills Conference, sectional, regional and semistate titles. They fell just short of a second state championship in four years after a 16-13 loss to Westfield in the 5A title game.
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Major and senior running back Jamon Hogan, who were last year’s The Republic Football Co-Players of the Year, head the list of several returning starters for East.
“It feels really good to be back on the field and getting ready to start the season,” Hogan said. “We’ve been working on it since after we ended last season. We did a lot more conditioning, which is going to help us coming into the season.”
The Olympians were in shoulder pads and helmets eight times this summer. Teams were limited to helmets and shorts in Monday’s practice.
Bob Gaddis, who is entering his 17th year at East and his 39th overall as a head coach, put his team through fundamentals, conditioning and special teams work in a 2 1/2-hour practice Monday morning. The Olympians will practice at 3:30 p.m. the rest of the week.
“The first day is always a fun day,” Gaddis said. “The summertime, you can get so much done anymore. We’re where we need to be. We’re not where we want to be yet, but I think we’re in pretty good shape right now.”
Across town, North also had a 2½-hour morning practice session that followed a classroom session. The Bull Dogs also will practice in the afternoon the rest of the week.
Tim Bless, who is entering his 18th year as North coach, said his team’s conditioning was an eye opener because students worked hard all summer, but weren’t able to replicate the intensity and timing of football. He thinks his players saw that they’re not in game shape yet.
“We were a little sluggish at the beginning, but I felt like after coach got into us, and some of the seniors started leading a little bit more, it got better as the day went on, and we ended really well,” senior defensive back J.D. Harris said. “I can’t wait to get rolling and playing and hitting some other people.”
The Bull Dogs went 9-2 last year, their best season since 2007. They fell to eventual 6A state runner-up Center Grove in the sectional final.
North was hit hard by graduation and will be breaking in several new starters, including junior quarterback Trenton Kelley.
“Just everyone going hard is good to see,” Kelley said. “I think there’s a lot of improvement, still, but we’ll be ready to go soon.”
Both East and North will be on the road for their scrimmages Aug. 11 and season-openers Aug. 18. The Olympians visit Martinsville for the scrimmage and Bloomington North for the first game, while the Bull Dogs travel to Greenwood for the scrimmage an Franklin for the opener.
Today and Wednesday, teams may practice in pro pads (helmets, shoulder pads and girdles). Full pads and tackling are allowed beginning Thursday.
“In helmets only, there’s only a certain amount you can get done, but hopefully we as a team are champing at the bit for full-pad football,” Bless said. “We’ve been at this tempo all summer long, so this is something that we’re used to. Come Thursday when we take it to full pad tackle football all the way to the ground, it will be new and different.”