The echo of a coach's whistle and the grunts and groans of players running sprints are returning to your local practice field, as today is the first day of high school football practice at high schools all over Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts.
This is the second year of the MIAA's state-playoff pilot program. The first saw Wahconah and Hoosac Valley reach state semifinal games -- the Warriors in Division IV, the Hurricanes in D-V.
"It's great to see them get out and start playing," Hoosac coach Dayne Poirot said. "It's good to see them get excited to finally be out there."
For coaches and players alike, practice means the end of the monotony of the offseason. Players spend time playing baseball, lifting weights, or running to improve conditioning, while coaches have to deal with paperwork and the planning necessary to run a program smoothly.
For Taconic second-year coach Jim Ziter, the start of practice offers him a chance to continue to grow in the role. He said he'll be able to use the lessons he learned in his first year to hit the ground running.
"Having a year under my belt and knowing what to expect, the unknowns aren't there and I was able to prepare, after not knowing what [the first year] was going to be like," he said.
"[I know] who I have and who's coming back. [I know] the upperclassmen and sophomores. [I am] learning from my mistakes and moving forward.
The MIAA handbook states that teams are restricted to non-contact conditioning sessions for the first three days of practice, with no pads other than helmets allowed. By Thursday, expect the thuds and clanks of pads crashing together to be in full swing.
Even if a player cannot get fully padded until his third practice, coaches like Poirot are still evaluating their players.
"[Non-padded practices] gets them used to the temperature," he said. "We're reviewing plays and starting to go over things. Seeing who's in shape, who knows what they're doing and who can learn quickly."
Offseason work is vital to a successful regular season. Ziter said he enjoys seeing his players mature and reap the benefits of a positive offseason.
"Seeing the progress the players went through last year, they had the drive to get better," he said. "A lot of kids bought into the offseason program. I can see them get better with each rep, each day."
The most important thing the start of a new season provides is optimism. Wahconah coach Gary Campbell Jr. said he enjoys hearing the goals his players set for themselves for the upcoming season, and watching as his players set out to achieve their goals. The work players put in will decide playing time, their spot on the depth chart and, ultimately, how many games they win or lose. For now, teams throughout the county share a positive outlook.
"I'm excited. It's like the first day of school -- I'm fired up," Campbell said. "The kids are back from summer vacation. ... Everybody feels like they have a chance at something. Everybody in Massachusetts is undefeated. I'm looking forward to the positive energy and the kids being excited to play the game."
To reach Akeem Glaspie:
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