Hawks open first football practice of 2018 with new energy, enthusiasm

Skyline High School head football coach Heath Gilbert watches as his football players workout during the first day of practice on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – The first official day of practice is an exciting time for all high school football players. For Skyline senior Caleb Reedy, Monday’s opening day was a little bit more so.

Reedy, a receiver/defensive back, suffered a broken femur in last year’s season opener against Central and was sidelined for the rest of the season. He was back on the practice field – and later in the school’s gymnasium after rain forced the Hawks indoors for their afternoon session – with his Skyline teammates on Monday.

“I actually feel better than I did last year coming in, even (after) being hurt,” he said moments after the Hawks broke their huddle in the center of the basketball court at the conclusion of practice. “But it’s special being able to get a chance to play again.”

In all, Monday’s first day saw about 70 players suit up for Skyline, according to Hawks head coach Heath Gilbert, with 40 of those expected to take the field with the varsity team for their opener against Central at home on Aug. 24.

The energy level among those 70 players on Monday, according to multiple Hawks, was something to behold. Reedy said the first day of practice in 2018 felt more productive and more positive than in recent years, adding that the team’s attitude toward practice in general and the willingness to work hard and compete has improved.

Skyline quarterback Chase Tasker runs through a drill on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Senior Nathan Abel echoed those feelings.

“It’s really surprising. It’s a lot different than last year, like I feel like everybody wants to be here and actually work hard now,” Abel said.

“I feel like we had a better offseason this year than we did last year, like more participation and everything. Not just like weight room but like coming to practice and everything. We had a lot of 7-on-7’s this summer and everybody showed up. It was really nice.”

Gilbert agreed that the coaching staff sensed the heightened enthusiasm, as well.

“We have some energy guys. Rest in peace, Keith Sanker was that last true energy, emotional leader that we’ve had,” Gilbert said, referring to the former Skyline linebacker/fullback who lost his life in an ATV accident two months after graduating in 2016, “and maybe with all that that happened, just the personality of guys that came through – we have more guys that are willing to get excited like that. And it just breeds. It’s infectious. One guy starts to get hype and it goes into another guy and the energy level is up. It’s day one. Hopefully that same energy is happening on Friday.”

Skyline is coming off a 2017 season in which it went 4-7 overall and returned to the playoffs after missing out on the postseason in 2016. The Hawks’ 2017 season came to an end with a 31-14 loss to cross-town rival Warren County in the Region 3B quarterfinals.

Though Skyline doubled its win total after a disappointing 2-8 season in 2016, the Hawks lost their final three games last season, including losses to Warren County in back-to-back weeks.

Gilbert said that while the Hawks committed plenty of mistakes in Monday’s practice, he’s confident in what he saw from his team on day one and added that Skyline is “looking to build.”

“We’re gonna make mistakes the first day and not being sharp,” Reedy said, “but (the coaches are) just keeping us positive.”

A lot of Monday’s practice time was spent driving home the importance of team building and chemistry, and Abel said working together in practice is a “big focus for us this year.”

Skyline holds its first intrasquad scrimmage of the new season on Saturday.

“This whole week is about learning,” Gilbert said, “coming together as a team as best we can and then on Saturday going out there and performing, guys show what they can do so they can become a starter or become a primary backup or a role guy, whatever it is.”