Donât tell area high school football coaches that these truly are the dog days of summer. They donât want to hear about such talk.
Monday marks the commencement of preseason training camps across the state and to suggest that teams are seeking to hit the ground running would be a gross understatement. The importance of the coming week cannot be underscored â albeit for a myriad of reasons.
This select time frame truly represents the one instance during the season when, as Woonsocket head coach Carnell Henderson noted, âyou arenât going 100 miles an hour.â There isnât an opponent to prepare for at the end of the week, meaning these taskmasters of the gridiron can hit the redo button should they feel somethingâs not up to specification. Thereâs comfort in knowing that if something doesnât work one day, thereâs always the next dayâs session to further address said area of need.
During the regular season, the luxury of hammering something home just doesnât exist. Most of the time, coaches and players alike are running downhill, i.e. spending most of the time theyâre in the company of one another on the finer points leading up to that weekâs kick-off. The sport resembles a CliffsNotes-esque tenor with practices emphasizing key points.
This week, such concerns are non-existent. While the art of conditioning and commitment are surely going to be stressed, pigskin bosses like Henderson, Dave Caito of Tolman and St. Raphaelâs Mike Sassi are eagerly looking forward to laying the foundation and starting the team-building process.
âItâs the most important time of year,â Henderson stressed. âFor the next two weeks, you ask the kids for their commitment. On the flip side, with some of the coaches being educators, they have the time as well. It gives us an opportunity where we can put the work in as a group and youâre not really pressed and not going to skip any steps for the sake of moving on. Our opponent is us right now.â
âIf you donât prepare and get them in shape, youâre behind the eight-ball and probably in for a long season,â notes Caito, whose Tigers in 2012 will make the seismic jump from Division II to I. âPlus you want the kids to have knowledge of our system.â
Sassi took a more tactical approach regarding the dividends this less-pressurized point of the football calendar can yield.
âYouâre putting in the majority of your offensive and defensive plays; thereâs going to be plays youâre going to rely on all year,â said the SRA grid boss. âI think itâs an important week for special teams. You donât know what theyâre going to look like until you get to the (Injury Fund) Round Robin scrimmages, but theyâre a real important part of the game.â
The R.I. Interscholastic League allows football teams to get a jump-start on its fall sports brethren as no high school athlete can officially kick soccer balls, spike volleyballs or comb cross-country trails as a unit until next Monday, Aug. 20. However, donât expect to see any hard-nosed hitting if you should happen to drive by one of the local fields. For the first five days of camp, thereâs an embargo on player contact.
It officially gets lifted on Saturday as teams such as Tolman and North Smithfield plan on holding intrasquad scrimmages.
Caito believes a coaching staff can accomplish a great deal with players donning helmets and shoulder pads while resisting the temptation of engaging in combative fire. This is a week thatâs tailor made for teaching while the coaches partake in evaluation, learning what players are better suited to do what.
âYou get a good indication of which kids want to be real football players,â notes Caito. âThatâs how you separate the men from the boys by learning who wants to play.â
The beauty of football is that thereâs always constant motion â nothing ever stays the same. From the perspective of training camp, a player may start out at tailback before shifting to wide receiver. Evaluating personnel is in a coachâs blood, this discernable trait probably the most critical as teams learn what works and vice-versa.
âYou may go a few days during camp and realize âIâm a square person in a round hole.â If somethingâs not working, youâll scrap it and go to something else,â Sassi stated.
âWe tell the kids to play where they want, but as the week progresses, weâre going to make recommendations where we (as coaches) think you can play,â Caito acknowledged.
âWe want to put kids in spots where they can help the team the most,â says Henderson.
The concept of position battles is something that coaches such as Henderson welcome.
âYouâll see coaches at the professional level talk about competition. If you donât have anybody competing, itâs not going to make that person whoâs slotted in that position any better,â said the Woonsocket mentor. âThe expectations are there where weâll have some positions thatâll be highly competitive and thatâs a good thing.â
Then thereâs the practice schedule. Sassi plans to go double sessions Monday through Friday before giving the players next weekend off. In the downtime between the morning and afternoon gatherings, the St. Raphael players will remain on campus with an eye toward eating/replenishing fluids, catching up on summer reading or immerse themselves further in the playbook.
At Tolman and Woonsocket, the plan is to hold one practice per day that takes place in the afternoon and lasts roughly three hours. Caito and Henderson understand that many of their players have jobs, hence why they believe one lengthy practice is more than sufficient.
Beginning Monday, players and coaches alike will take the first steps â baby ones, mind you â in a journey that both parties hope culminates in playing meaningful football past Thanksgiving.
âDuring the summer, you never run with a helmet and pads on,â said Henderson. âAs soon as those things occur, you up the ante.â
The first possible date in which teams are allowed to conduct scrimmages with other teams is a week from this Thursday, Aug. 23. Thursday, Aug. 30 is when the Injury Fund will take place with Pawtucketâs Max Read Field the site for the following two-quarter dress rehearsals: Lincoln-Cumberland at 5 p.m., St. Raphael-East Providence at 6, Tolman-Central Falls at 7 and Shea-Woonsocket at 8.
Another batch of Injury Fund contests are on tap for Friday, Aug. 31 at Johnston High School. North Smithfield will face Ponaganset while Burrillville tangos with North Providence.
Non-leaguers are on tap for the weekend of Sept. 7-8 with the first league contest set for Sept. 14-15.