Athletics generally, and football specifically, allow limited time for gloating.
Football fans in Bismarck-Mandan were generally a happy lot last fall. The five local schools won 40 games. Four reached the playoff semifinals and St. Mary’s won the state AA championship.
Matching that kind of year is a tall order, but over 400 boys showed up for the first day of practice Wednesday ready to try.
St. Mary’s had 70 players on the practice fields, 20 of them freshmen. Bismarck, last year’s AAA runner-up, had about 100 players report, 33 of them freshmen.
About 115 players practiced at Century, 43 of them freshmen, and 29 players went through drills at Shiloh. Both teams were semifinalists last fall.
Ninety-three players went through drills at Mandan, 33 of them freshmen. The Braves are coming off a 1-8 season.
Legacy, which will play its first varsity season in 2015, had 71 sophomores and freshmen report on Wednesday.
Temperatures the first few days of practice resemble baseball season more so than football. Wednesday’s temperature peaked at 88. The highs today and Friday will approach 90 before a more moderate 85 on Saturday.
Coach Dan Smrekar opened practice with a veteran group.
“We had a fairly small senior class. We only had eight or nine seniors out last year,” Smrekar said. “... We lost some of our secondary and some of our receivers. ... We played a lot of juniors last year, so we’ve got good depth coming back and good experience coming back.”
Smrekar said his veteran players set a good example with their offseason work ethic.
“Most of them came in in pretty good shape and they had a pretty good summer in the weight room,” the coach said. “All of our kids, particularly the upperclassmen, had a pretty good summer as far as getting ready.”
Smrekar interpreted 70 players as a positive sign.
“I’m very pleased with the numbers,” he said. “We’ve got 20 freshmen out and good senior numbers.”
The Saints, 11-1 last year, open Aug. 29 at Fargo Shanley.
Graduation was not evenhanded with the Demons, roughing up the defense far worse than the offense.
“We actually return seven starters on offense, which is more than we’ve returned in a long time,” coach Mark Gibson said. “What you’ll notice will be the defense. We graduated all of our defensive line and basically our defensive backfield.”
Even after graduation the losses continued.
“We lost (senior) Dallas Horner. He can’t play this season because of concussions,” Gibson said. “He’s very athletic. ... He played a lot for us down the stretch last year.”
Gibson said the turnout of athletes wasn’t bad, but the head count of sophomores — 22 — raises some concerns.
“That’s the lowest it’s been in some time,” he said.
The Demons open up Aug. 29 at Grand Forks Red River. They’re coming off an 11-1 season.
Graduation hit Century hard, and it will affect how the Patriots do business.
“We graduated 32 seniors last year, so it was a class that afforded us the ability to fully platoon,” coach Ron Wingenbach said. “We’re not going to have that this year. ... Some of our kids are going to have to grow up quickly to fill those shoes.”
The lack of experience and depth is especially acute among the linemen.
Wingenbach said Century’s numbers are down, but mostly due to the Legacy football program. What’s encouraging is the freshman turnout — 43.
“Our freshman class is large,” he said.
Century finished 7-3 last season. The Patriots open at Fargo Davies on Aug. 29.
Coach Funnon Barker’s quest is to develop some depth as the Skyhawks seek to build on last year’s 10-1 showing.
“We only lost three seniors. ... Most teams think that’s relatively minor, but all three of those kids played a lot for us,” Barker said.
Although Shiloh boasts several veteran starters, Barker said there’s little manpower waiting in the wings.
“Finding depth and finding backups is really an issue for us. ... We need to find those younger kids who can play for us,” he said. “... We have to have some kids ready to step up if need be.”
Barker said last year’s showing has created a sense of optimism in the Skyhawk camp.
“We’re coming off a fairly successful season and we know the kids want to get back there. But we have a lot of work to do before we get there,” he said.
Shiloh plays twice in the first week of the season, playing host to Center-Stanton on Aug. 26 and visiting Richardton-Taylor-Hebron on Aug. 30.
Coach Todd Sheldon seemed pleased with the number of players who turned out on Wednesday.
“We’re up about 12 kids from the first day last year .. and the freshman numbers (33) are some of the highest we’ve had in four years,” Sheldon said.
With only about 10 seniors in the fold, Sheldon said the Braves needed stronger numbers in the other classes.
“The junior and sophomore classes are kind of making up for the senior class,” he said.
Sheldon said the Braves need to fill some gaping holes in the interior line before they head for Fargo South on Aug. 29 to play their season opener.
“Offensive tackle is probably our greatest need because those positions were dominated by seniors last year,” Sheldon said. “Even the second-string guys at those positions were seniors.”
Because they’ve always been segregated by academic year, Wednesday was the first time Legacy’s football players practiced as a unit.
Coach Chris Clements said 71 athletes sounds like a pretty good number, but he has no measuring stick by which to compare it.
“I don’t know what 71 means. ... When we get to four grades, then you can compare us with the numbers other high schools have,” he said.
The Sabers are playing a hybrid schedule of sorts.
They open at home against West Fargo Sheyenne on Aug. 29. Sheyenne, which has no seniors, will be playing its first season in the AAA East Region this fall. Legacy’s second game will be against the Devils Lake varsity.
“Sheyenne is in the same boat we’re going to be in next year,” Clements said.
The rest of the schedule consists of seven JV games against West Region schools.
From what Clements discovered, a good number of the Sabers reported to practice ready to go.
“Based on the numbers from summer training, I’d say our kids took it pretty seriously,” he said.