Dreams of the playoffs. Nightmares of winless seasons. Of such things are initial football practices made.
It's where such tales were being told that made things interesting on Wednesday as North Dakota's prep football teams began drills.
Mandan is coming off its first trip to the Class AAA playoffs in four years and coach Pat O'Brien expects the Braves to play in the postseason again. He points to Century, Bismarck and the Braves as the West Region's top-tier teams.
Bismarck has played in the last four state Class AAA championship games, winning two. Yet Wednesday spelled only gloom and doom to coach Mark Gibson.
"I thought we had way too many kids report out of shape," Gibson said. "... Remember those really hot mid-August days? Today was really beautiful and we had a lot of kids who were not ready to play."
Concern about conditioning was the norm.
"Our numbers (68 in the top three grades) ar
e OK. We're holding where we normally are with the numbers. Our conditioning is down and we need to work on that," O'Brien noted.
Century coach Ron Wingenbach said Wednesday's relatively cool weather was a lifesaver for some of his players.
"We've got some young men who should be thankfu
l it's not really hot," Wingenbach said. "... But I think a lot of our returning letter winners understand how important it was to come into camp in shape and they're ready to go."
Shiloh coach Funnon Barker said his team arrived in the middle of the pack condition-wise.
"We're probably on par with where a lot of teams are." Barker said.
St. Mary's coach Dan Smrekar, on the other hand, was pleased with what he saw from his players.
"The kids came in in pretty good shape. We had a great off-season in the weight room and working out," Smrekar said.
Nothing showed the disparity between AAA and 9-man football like the numbers game.
O'Brien wondered if 68 players in the top three grades would get the job done, while Barker greeted 15 first-day players at Shiloh, a 9-man school.
Eighty-one players, grades 9-12, showed up for Bismarck's first practice and Wingenbach had 130 report at Century. Fifty-five players practiced at St. Mary's on Wednesday, 22 of them freshmen.
Century has reached the AAA semifinals four years running, and Wingenbach liked what he saw on Wednesday.
"We've got to find some depth in a few spots, but we're pretty pleased with where we are in terms of the experience we bring back," Wingenbach said.
Gibson said Bismarck is at the opposite end of the spectrum with minimal experience.
"This is probably the most inexperienced team we've ever had. ... Our senior class is low (17 players), but that's been a small class all the way through," the BHS coach noted. "Last year we had around 30 seniors.
"The disappointing thing is when the seniors come in out of shape," Gibson added.
O'Brien said some of his players reported in playing condition and others are far behind. The coach said the Braves have to be in better shape as a team for their Aug. 26 opener at Grand Forks Central.
"We have to be in good shape for what we want to do. We need to be a little more fast-paced," he said.
Off-season conditioning may have been spotty, but none of the five Bismarck-Mandan head coaches reported losing any players to season-ending injuries over the summer. They did add a few promising newcomers, however.
"We picked up three or four sophomores who transferred to school, but no ringers by any stretch of the imagination," O'Brien said.
Smrekar said Josh McCormick returned after missing last season due to injury and Brad Obritsch is trying the sport for the first time. Both are seniors. Obritsch is a wide receiver and McCormick plays running back and cornerback.
Barker, who started with 11 players last fall, said a few players from Shiloh's student body decided to play. There may be a few more athletes among the students transferring to the school. Five of Shiloh's 15 players are freshmen.
"We did pick up a few good players. ... A couple of guys who are really going to contribute for us," Barker noted.
Bismarck: Aug. 27 vs. West Fargo, Community Bowl, 7 p.m.
Century: Aug. 26 vs. Fargo South, Community Bowl, 5 p.m.
Mandan: Aug. 26 at Grand Forks Central, 7 p.m.
St. Mary's: Aug. 26 vs. Wahpeton, Community Bowl, 8 p.m.
Shiloh: Aug. 23 vs. Central McLean, Hughes Field, 7 p.m.