It may not be as accurate as the first-down chains, but it seems high school football coaches rely heavily on a barometer called summer work.

 Given the slightest opportunity, Bismarck-Mandan's AAA football coaches were quick to assess the condition in which their athletes reported for Wednesday's first day of preseason workouts.

 "Let's put it this way. I'm pretty pleased with the ones who have done their work this summer," said Ron Wingenbach, head coach of defending state champion Century.

 Fortunately for Wingenbach, who greeted his 27th CHS team on Wednesday, the aforementioned group includes the bulk of the team's nucleus.

 "They're the ones were counting on to play varsity football," he said. "... Our varsity group came out ready to go."

 Fifth-year Mandan head coach Todd Sheldon said he liked what he saw when his Mandan Braves got down to business.

 "I was pleasantly surprised and pleased with a couple of things. The numbers were awesome -- 98 kids in grades 9 through 12. ... We did some conditioning tests and they fared pretty well," Sheldon said.

  As he began preparing the Legacy Sabers for their second varsity season, head coach Chris Clements said the first day went well.

 "I'm very happy with what we got accomplished today, and the enthusiasm," Clements said. "But I've come to expect it because of how hard these kids worked over the summer."

 Numbers, some up, some down, were also on the coaches' minds.

 "These are the lowest numbers we've had since 1999," said Bismarck Demons coach Mark Gibson, who is embarking on his 18th AAA season. "We've got about 100 kids total, 64 in grades 10 through 12."

 Conversely, Wingenbach was pleased with the turnout of over 130 athletes at Century. 

 "We have pretty good numbers. We're currently missing 11 14- and 15-year-old baseball players who are involved in their World Series," Wingenbach said.

 Wednesday's tally at CHS was around 135 football players in the top four grades and close to 90 in the top three grades.

At Legacy, Clements had close to 110 players report on Wednesday, over 60 of them from the top three grades.

 "The numbers are fine, but you would always like to see more," Clements said.

 Clements said he expects the numbers to pick up rapidly in the future.

 "Our numbers will get bigger  because the class sizes are going to get bigger," he noted.

 Century and Legacy had nobody on the sidelines watching, unable to play on Wednesday. Bismarck senior linebacker Xievera Winding is recovering from offseason knee surgery.

 Mandan's receiver corps is missing juniors Camren Steckler and Matthew Blotsky. Steckler is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and Blotsky is sidelined with a strained hip tendon.

 Offseason player movement has been quite limited, with Bismarck and Century each picking up a linemen likely to see playing time. 

 "Nick Carter is a young man who came in from Louisiana. He'll play in the offensive and defensive lines for us," Gibson said.

  Century picked up 210-pound senior Jayce LaPray.

  "He moved here from Minot in June," Wingenbach said. "He's a senior offensive and defensive lineman."

  Both Wingenbach and Clements pointed to the 2015 graduating class as something special. However, they aren't ready to conclude the West Region is down.

 "The 2015 West Region class was very talented. ... There were a lot of college-type players sprinkled throughout the league," Wingenbach said. "I don't know if you'll see that level of talent. The league will be balanced from top to bottom."

 Clements expects the talent flow into the West Region to continue.

  "You'll always see exceptional seniors leave ... but there always seem to be others who rise up. ... I don't think it will be a down year. A new crop (of athletes) has to emerge," Clements said.

With morning temperatures in the 60s, Wednesday's weather was a blessing to the players. Maybe too great a blessing, according to Gibson.

 "When it's hot, it gets you ready a lot faster. ... I'd rather have it hot so we can condition and get ready for the first game," Gibson said. "You have to be ready if the first weekend (of games) is hot."

 Bismarck, Century and Mandan are coming off winning seasons. Century went 10-2 during its first state championship season. Bismarck finished 7-3 and Mandan narrowly missed the playoffs with a 5-4 mark. Legacy, playing without seniors, finished 0-9 in its first exposure to varsity football.

(Steve Thomas is a Bismarck Tribune sportswriter).

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Sports Reporter