Now that the pads and helmets are on and the first wind sprints have been run, it’s already a monumental football season for Shiloh Christian.
With 29 players on his roster, fourth-year coach Funnon Barker says the Skyhawks have reached a milestone of sorts.
“It’s the most kids we’ve ever had out at Shiloh,” Barker said. “We have four JV games scheduled. This is the first time we’ve ever had JV games.”
Barker said the greatest advantage to having 29 players for 9-man football is the intrasquad competition.
“The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is competition for positions. This is the first time we’ve ever had that. ... I hope we don’t have as many two-way guys,” Barker said.
Shiloh was part of a statewide rush to the football practice fields on Wednesday, the first official day of practice.
Like Bismarck, Shiloh opened with one extended practice. Century, Mandan and St. Mary’s practiced twice.
For Shiloh the day of reckoning is close at hand. The Skyhawks open Aug. 27 in a Region 4 game at Center-Stanton.
The other four Bismarck-Mandan schools get out of the gate on Aug. 30. Bismarck plays host to Grand Forks Red River, Century visits Fargo Davies, Mandan travels to Fargo South and St. Mary’s takes on Fargo Shanley at the Community Bowl.
Shiloh, 7-3 last season, plays two games the first week of the season. On Aug. 31 the Skyhawks take on Richardton-Taylor-Hebron in Bismarck.
“I’d like to see us in a little better shape than we are,” Barker observed. “We only have 13 days before our first game, so that’s going to be an issue.”
Barker said competitiveness is his theme in the preseason.
“Compete. Compete every day and get better every day,” he said.
Bismarck is riding the crest of two straight AAA state championship seasons and a 17-game winning streak.
That’s not what coach Mark Gibson saw from his 90 seniors, juniors and sophomores on Wednesday, though.
“The only positive to come out of today is I got the kicking net together,” Gibson said. “We have a long, long way to go.
“They came in horribly out of shape, immensely out of shape. How many adjectives can I use to describe how out of shape?” Gibson said. “That includes the coach.”
Gibson said he doesn’t want his players getting the idea that the Demons’ four state championships in five years guarantee anything for 2013.
“The one thing we’re trying to emphasize is nobody is entitled to anything. ... They’ve got to work for it, and we’ve got a lot of work to do — a lot,” he said.
Then Gibson, in his 15th season at BHS, brightened a bit.
“Our seniors have been very good with leadership, I will say that,” he said.
When it comes to offseason conditioning, Century coach Ron Wingenbach says his veteran players sent the right message.
“Overall, I’m pretty pleased with their condition, moreso with the shape the juniors and seniors came in,” Wingenbach said. “There’s always room for improvement, but we had a good summer.”
Century’s first practice, at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, drew well over 100 candidates from the top four grades.
“We had between 120 and 130. We’ve been in that vicinity the last three years,” said Wingenbach, who is entering his 24th season at CHS.
“We have a big senior class — 33 kids,” Wingenbach added.
That’s minus a returning starter in the offensive line. Senior Zach Schell fell victim to a knee problem.
“He probably won’t be with us this season,” Wingenbach said.
With several veteran players in the mix, there should be some intense battles for starting positions, according to Wingenbach.
“With our competition at the junior and senior level, we’re going to have some hellacious practices,” he said.
Century, 9-3 in 2012, has advanced to the state championship game the last two seasons, falling to Bismarck both years.
Numbers are up at Mandan as Todd Sheldon enters his second season as Braves head coach.
Eighty-one players reported Wednesday, and Sheldon expects another half-dozen to show up after work conflicts are resolved.
“That’s 15 or so more than last year,” said Sheldon, whose team finished 3-6 last season.
“We’ve got a few kids who didn’t play last year, mostly juniors,” Sheldon added.
Sheldon said the emphasis in the early going will be on discipline.
“We’re going to focus on discipline — each player doing what he’s supposed to do when he’s supposed to do it at a level of enthusiasm to be successful,” Sheldon said.
Sheldon also wants to see a greater sense of team awareness.
“We’re focusing on teamwork. ... We’re doing some team-building activities and working hard,” he said.
The head count at St. Mary’s was 59 in the top four grades, neither good nor bad, according to veteran coach Dan Smrekar.
“That’s about the same. We’ve stayed in the 55-to-65 range for the last many years,” Smrekar said. “... A lot of these kids are (returning) backups or starters.”
Smrekar is entering his 36th season at the Saints’ head coach, including last year’s 4-5 campaign.
He liked some of the things he saw the first day.
“We had a good summer in the weight room. ... Condition-wise they were pretty good. Attitude-wise the enthusiasm was great,” Smrekar said.
The coach said his message to the Saints is simple.
“I think they’ve got the ability to be a pretty good team. It’s what they want to make of it,” Smrekar said.