For Los Gatos coach Mark Krail, the first day of football training is “like a Christmas morning” where he can see if the new juniors and seniors are living up to the expectations built up through hard off-season work.
For other coaches, it’s time to teach the team the most important fundamentals of the game. For everyone, the first day of training is a fresh start to what will hopefully be the first “normal” football season since 2019.
“We don’t even bring up the COVID seasons anymore,” said Serra coach Patrick Walsh. “I’d rather never talk about it again.”
Rather than focus on the murky past, the Central Coast Section teams attended their first official practice of the season on Friday, preparing for 2022 with optimism. North Coast Section teams will wait until Monday for their first practice session.
Among the dozens of players scurrying around the glittering green field at Serra’s Brady Family Stadium was senior lineman Ryan Silver, who never stopped after the team’s Open Division State Championship loss in December to Mater Dei-Santa Ana to work.
“We’ve been training at 6 a.m. since January and after taking a week off at the start of summer we went straight back to football and conditioning,” said the 300-pound San Diego State conscript. “It was intense but I think it will prepare us for the coming season.”
Soccer fans delight in the ankle-smashing jukes, hard punches, and deep bombs that game days bring. But the coaches mostly focused on the mundane but essential aspects of the sport on which these highlights are built.
Walsh knows those fundamentals need to be automatic if the Padres are to start strong against what is perhaps the most ruthless line of opponents in Northern California. They head to the Sacramento area to play Folsom, then to De La Salle, and finally they host Central Catholic from Modesto to start their season.
“For us, it’s all about basics, basics, basics, basics,” Walsh said, adding a little more emphasis to the four-syllable word each time he said it. “We spend a lot of time focusing on the core principles of football, like blocking.”
Gunderson coach Jason Harrison doesn’t have to contend with a similar set of opponents, but his message to his team was almost identical. However, there was a twist.
After not being allowed to do much, if anything, in terms of team practice or workouts until early July 2021, Gunderson players came to camp out of shape. Form only changed after the team lost their first three games by a 140-6 aggregate score.
Once on form, the Grizzlies went 6-1 across the stretch. As a team built on playing fast and beating opponents with a barrage of quick shots, Harrison will train this year’s team to execute the basics with pace, something they’ve been working on over the summer.
“This summer we did CrossFit for muscular and cardio endurance,” Harrison said. “It’s day and night like last year, at least as far as endurance is concerned.”
Down the road in Los Gatos, Krail had many familiar faces peeking through the helmets during the team’s first practice session. The Wildcats coach needs to find a replacement for current Boise State linebacker Jake Ripp, but he’s confident a collection of juniors and seniors will be able to fill the void.
So it’s fitting that he said the first focus will be on tackling, which Ripp did pretty well. He quipped that this offseason “has returned to what is normal” and that players appreciated and enjoyed having a full offseason to prepare for Friday’s long-awaited arrival.
“No one will be on the ground, so it’s about technique and good habits,” said Krail of his team’s first practice session. “Tackling is one of those things that you can improve with practice.”
Teams have about three weeks to improve through practice before games begin in earnest on the last weekend of August. When the games count, Serra, like so many other teams, will look to his quarterback to guide them. Taking over from graduate Dominique Lampkin this season, the Padres’ Maealiuaki Smith was confident his side’s preparation will pay off in the off-season.
“We’ve done a lot to prepare and that preparation has instilled a lot of confidence in the team,” Smith said before he started throwing passes to receivers. “We are ready for the season.”