It was the end of a long, hectic day as the Columbus North Bull Dogs sat huffing and puffing around coach Tim Bless following football practice Monday night.
Bless noted to his team that the workout could have been better, but he also appreciated his players went through a seven-hour school day before they took the field.
He then presented his main message.
“Let’s be better tomorrow than we were today,” Bless said.
High school football coaches all over Indiana were able to deliver similar messages Monday, the first day the Indiana High School Athletic Association allowed official practices for the 2014 season.
The shrinking summer vacation for students has given a different dynamic to the start of football practice, which used to begin before the school year opened. With the earlier start now in the Bartholomew Consolidated Schools Corps., coaches no longer can hold two-a-day sessions while keeping their players focused on football.
At defending state 4A champion Columbus East, coach Bob Gaddis was complimenting his players for hanging tough the first day.
“I thought it was a good first day, real productive,” Gaddis said. “Coming back to school (at the same time as the first day of practice) is a new routine for these high school guys. They need to have that balance.”
East senior offensive lineman Devorus Lewis was smiling despite a practice that ended with a series of wind sprints.
“I’m ready to start playing,” said Lewis, a starter on the state championship team. “Honestly, you look forward to this week. I’m ready to start playing against people.
“I’m really impatient. But I realize I have work to do.”
It was a theme that all the coaches, on both the North and East squads, related to their players. The catch phrases during both practice sessions were similar.
“Move your feet ... quick feet.”
“Get your pad level down.”
“Keep your eyes up.”
“Get lower ... get lower.”
Besides the on-the-field lessons, players also had to adapt to the routine of playing high school football. Gaddis talked to his players about that routine, which included the proper colored jersey to wear to practice and what meetings to attend.
It is a time to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“It was fun because this was the first day of practice,” Bless said. “But it was far from a clean practice. They had to put in a seven-hour school day before being asked to perform to our standards of excellence.
“The first day always is ‘Whew!’”
Bless said his practice started a little rocky but kicked into a higher gear.
“That is the benefit of having a veteran team,” he said. “You want your seniors to take over, and that is just what they did.”
Although Bless misses the days when the players reported to practice before the actual school year began, he knows that everyone has to adapt.
“We used to have that midnight madness first practice, so no, this is not as much fun. It is what it is.
“But you know what? There is nowhere I would rather be.”