Back To Work

Members of Central High School's varsity football team participate in a footwork drill during practice Thursday morning in Woodstock. Brad Fauber/Daily

WOODSTOCK – It’s that time of year again, the time when high school football players brave the intense midsummer heat to begin preparations for the upcoming season.

Players from three local high schools hit the field for the first official day of football practice Thursday, as Central, Sherando and Stonewall Jackson began work ahead of the 2015 campaign.

For Central senior running back/linebacker Hank Hoover, Thursday had been a day that he and his Falcon teammates had been counting down to over the last few months.

“It’s great to see all your friends come back out, seeing who all is here,” Hoover said following the Falcons’ morning practice session on the practice field below Central High School. “The feeling, it’s just, it’s thrilling. It’s very, I don’t know how to say it, but it’s just a feeling that you can’t express, it seems like. It’s just the love for the game, I guess.”

That feeling isn’t limited just to the players, however. The coaches feel a similar sense of excitement during that first day of practice, Falcons head coach Mike Yew said.

Central assistant football coach Rowdy Hoover demonstrates a drill for members of the Falcons' varsity football team during practice Thursday morning in Woodstock. Brad Fauber/Daily

“It’s a build up. We look forward to it,” Yew said. “… You start in the winter and it peaks and valleys with time with kids playing spring sports and stuff. But you just work winter, spring and into the summer and go to camp and 7-on-7’s and all that good stuff, and weight room time. You’re building up for today and it’s fun.”

Central, which was scheduled to hold two practices Thursday, opened its morning session at 9 a.m. and spent most of that time introducing drills and running through an offense-only “perfect plays” drill before closing with some conditioning. Yew said the Falcons’ evening session would be similar in design, with the coaching staff also spending time with individual offensive positions to focus on related skill work.

A lot of Thursday’s practice was spent getting the younger players acclimated to the varsity level, Yew said, but he added the primary focus was on creating a sense of togetherness within the program.

“We’re trying to teach everyone to be on the same level and we’re trying to teach them the skills for life, that they can learn to support, pick up one another and be a positive reinforcement in every capacity,” Yew said.

One thing the Falcons will have to battle this season is low numbers. After enjoying a steady roster of between 40 and 45 players in previous seasons, about 30 players turned out for Central’s first practice, though Yew said that was expected after the program experienced low turnout at the JV level over the past two or three years.

Yew said he expects the Falcons to field a roster of anywhere from 29 to 32 varsity players this season, down from the approximately 42 players Central had last season. The program graduated 34 seniors over the past two years.

“It just goes in cycles. This is one of the lower numbers that we’ll have, that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Yew, who added that the JV team will feature a roster of 44 to 48 players this fall. “It’ll only be a one-year thing. We know that. We knew that coming in with 28 freshmen in the program. But we’ve got 30 great kids out here and we’re going to put together a good team.”

The Falcons also had a handful of players sitting out the morning practice session for various reasons. Hoover, who did not participate Thursday morning, was one of several players still awaiting a required physical examination, and senior wide receiver/defensive back Tristan Rau didn’t participate after having his wisdom teeth removed Wednesday.

But Hoover and Rau, as well as others who were sidelined Thursday, were able to contribute to practice in other ways.

“[We’re] just trying to get the younger kids up and get them excited for this season,” Rau said. “Everybody’s going to get some playing time because we’re kind of short. But just getting them kind of hyped about the season starting and everything.”

While Central opened the new season in its own backyard, Sherando opted to begin its 2015 practice schedule out of town. The Warriors, last season’s Northwestern District champion, made their annual trip to Graves Mountain Lodge in Syria for a team camp Thursday and Friday.

Stonewall Jackson also began practice Thursday night, as the Generals welcomed in new head coach Jay Goode. The first-year coach, who served previously as an assistant at defending Group 2A state champ Glenvar, replaces longtime Stonewall Jackson coach Dick Krol and will be tasked with turning around a program that has won only four games in the past three seasons.

The high school football season begins Aug. 28.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com