By Brad Fauber
Sherando's varsity football team wasted no time when it hit the field for the first official day of practice for the 2014 season on Thursday evening. The Warriors really have no need to ease into the basics -- that sort of thing is well behind them.
The current crop of Warriors has been busy during the offseason with Sherando's traditional workload. There was the two-week practice period near the end of the 2013-14 winter sports season, and a similar session near the end of the spring season in late May and early June. Then there was the Warriors' annual trip to Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria, where they held six practices just a week and half ago. And of course, there was plenty of weight lifting throughout the offseason months.
So when the Warriors, last season's Group 4A state runner-up, took to the practice field at 4:30 p.m. Thursday for the first session of the evening, they tossed the basics out the window.
"The first day I try to throw a lot of stuff in there just to make them think and focus on what they need to do," Warriors head coach Bill Hall said. "We're so far away from just lining up in a base formation and running a base play. We're just moving on to what we want to get to.
"The seeds are planted in the offseason, hopefully, so that we know what we're doing. Now, how can we window dress and change all those things to get to the same exact thing?"
Sherando busied itself with position-specific drills, and by the end of Thursday's first session, the Warriors -- sans pads -- were churning through offensive plays in 11-on-11 drills.
"What we talk about all the time is outworking our opponent, and we're going to do that right from the start," said Warriors senior Rhett Morris.
Central took a lighter approach to its first practice of the season on Thursday morning, more out of necessity than anything after graduating 21 seniors from last year's team that advanced all the way to the Class 3A East regional semifinal.
With so many new faces adorning this year's roster, Falcons coach Mike Yew opted to spend some time at the beginning of Thursday's 9 a.m. practice helping the team get to know each other a little better.
"We just tried to bridge that gap a little bit with some team-building activities, and I thought it went pretty well," said Yew, who expects to have about 43 players on the roster when the Falcons reach full strength. "The kids laughed, had a good time and it was worth it to spend that 45 minutes doing that rather than just out here and running and drilling. We'll have plenty of time to do all that stuff."
Central followed its team-building exercise with some stretching and running to get everyone up and moving before clocking out of the morning session.
Yew said he also spoke to his players about the importance of finding an identity, a high priority after the Falcons spent the last several years under the guidance of a very successful group that graduated last season.
Yew insisted that Central is going to stay true to what has made it a successful program over the last several years, but the Falcons will need to find a new group of leaders to fill the gap left after last season.
"It's a mindset that I've had since the very last game last year -- just realizing that somebody's got to step up," Falcons senior Sam Barbour said. "We need some leaders to step up and lead these young kids because ... not a lot of them have experience at the varsity level in games. It's new to everybody, but we need the people that have a little bit of experience to step up and lead them."
Sherando faces a similar challenge this season, as the Warriors graduated plenty of valuable leadership from last year's squad that won Northwestern District and Region 4A North championships.
"The thing is going to be, what are the new roles?" Hall said. "The thing about last year that made them special is that everybody had clear, defined roles, whatever those were, and they excelled in those roles and those jobs. Now those roles change. How do those roles get defined? ... And how do they accept and excel within those roles?
"That's the exciting thing, and you can't just say you're this and you're that. We'll have to see how it plays out."
Stonewall Jackson was the third area high school to begin practice on Thursday, but the Generals face the very real danger of having to forgo the 2014 season due to insufficient numbers. Generals head coach Dick Krol said he expects to make a final decision about the varsity football season on Friday.
The rest of the area's schools -- Skyline, Strasburg and Warren County -- all begin practice on Monday.
New this season is the Virginia High School League rule that limits game-speed contact in practice to 90 minutes per week, but both Yew and Hall said that change won't have any impact on their teams.
Central opens the season at home on Aug. 29 against John Champe.
Sherando begins its season on the same day with a road contest against Musselman (West Virginia).
"The biggest thing is that I've tried to reiterate to them is it's going to be challenge. When you go to the state championship game there's a big, huge bull's-eye right on your back," Hall said. "... We're just going to focus on the process of what we do every single week to be successful. We talked about goals before practice tonight and we have a whole list of goals... We'll put those goals up on the shelf at the end of the season and see if we hit them or not."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org