First practice day for the 2018 football season brought a welcome relief of cooler temperatures around North Central Illinois Monday morning.
“The weather was perfect for this time of year,” Hall coach Randy Tieman said.
“We got 70 degrees today and watch, we’ll get it in the 90s for the first game,” St. Bede coach Jim Eustice said.
Hall team trainer Drew Wallace, who kept a close eye on the practice, welcomed the cooler temps, but still made sure the kids stayed hydrated. The former Princeton gridder (class of 2008) said he’s happy on sidelines and doesn’t miss two-a-days.
Hall: My first stop on the Bureau County football tour is at Hall, which was first to kick things off at 7 a.m. I arrive to find a lot of hard work going on, and it had nothing to do with the players.
The team managers are impressively carrying weights off the field like there was nothing to it. Then they pick up blocking pads, three or four at a time. These girls are tough.
Coach Tieman, freshly back from some “R and R” at the beach, said things went well for the first practice.
“I thought we had a good first day. The kids were sharp for the first day, and there was some excitement. I was very happy with today,” he said.
The Red Devils coach reported having 43 kids in camp with more than half on varsity. Practices will continue to start at 7 a.m. through the week, moving to 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday when they go to full pads.
The Red Devils will open the season at home with Orion on Friday, Aug. 24.
On a side note, longtime assistant line coach Steve Smith, the drill sergeant for Hall’s Hog Soldiers, still easily maintains the award for best moustache around with his trademark handlebar.
St. Bede: My next stop was down the road to the Academy, where the Bruins had just over 50 kids in camp (55 by Tuesday), including most all key personnel. Eustice said he prefers that much more than a year ago, when he faced a near total rebuild on the heels of heavy graduation losses after the Bruins’ playoff run in 2016.
“I’m very pleased with how the summer went, our numbers, and our work ethic. It’s nice to hit the ground running Day 1,” Eustice said.
One of those from the 2016 squad back in camp was quarterback Bryant Eustice, who will be an as assistant coach under his dad. He joked being a coach for his dad rather than the coach’s son/quarterback will be a lot less stressful on game nights, especially at home after a tough game.
The younger Eustice, who is no longer playing collegiately, was styling with a floppy hat that his dad referenced as the Carl Spackler from “Caddy Shack” look. It was just a matter of keeping comfortable, Bryant said.
My condolences to Bruins assistant coach Bill Booker, who missed camp due to the sudden passing of his mother-in-law, Christa Stewart of Spring Valley.
The Bruins will hit the road for their Aug. 24 season opener at Fulton.
Bureau Valley: After a timeout at the office and a break for lunch, the old sports editor headed west for the afternoon session of football, winding my way through Backbone Road to Manlius for some Bureau Valley Storm football.
I had to use some detective skills, but found the Storm camp down at Bourquin Field due to the construction maze at the high school. I always loved Bourquin Field, the old Manlius High School gridiron. Its namesake, Ken Bourquin, is one of the best coaches I’ve ever come across in all my years and just a great guy.
Assistant coach/principal Jason Spang welcomes me and takes me into the inner sector of the Storm camp where second-year head coach Joe Schmidt is conducting a classroom session in the old shop building. He said they will have two, 45-minute sessions of class time each week, rotating days with the F/S while the other is weight-lifting.
Schmidt and AD Vicki Litherland checked off players for their physical, and he took their requests for uniform numbers. With the paperwork complete, Schmitt talked to the team about expectations for the season, later breaking for their opening day workouts.
“Numbers are getting better. Up over 50, which is five more than we had last season and 10 more than we had two seasons ago,” Schmitt said.
Before football time, the Storm coach got his day started catching some nice catfish with his two sons. He said the best part is watching the boys’ faces as they catch them.
I must say I missed not seeing former longtime assistant coach Craig Johnson, who was with the Storm program since its inception.
The Storm will welcome Erie-Prophetstown under the turbine at home for its season opener.
Princeton: The last stop of the day took me to the Little Siberia practice field in Princeton. Was great to see some new, but familiar faces on the Tiger staff this year, former Tiger head coach Dave Moore (2008-11) and standout Nate Norman (1998). They have a lot of experience and knowledge to share.
“Having those two on board has been a great addition to our staff,” second-year Tiger coach Ryan Pearson said. “We share a lot of the same philosophies on how we should practice, drills we use and schemes we run, etc. They both have very high expectations for our kids. I absolutely love our entire coaching staff.”
Pearson begins his second season at the helm of the Tigers, where he’s indoctrinating a philosophy to “Fear the Stripes.” He said the first practice went “extremely well,” and has seen a lot of progression since when he came to town a year ago to succeed Jesse Snyder, now at Stockton.
“I was very impressed with our kids’ work ethic, focus and enthusiasm. We’re much further along this year than where we were at this point last year,” Pearson said.
The Tigers broke camp with 60 kids this year overall. After two days of afternoon sessions, the Tigers will move to morning starts at 8 a.m. for “shells” the rest of the week.
PHS faces a road trip to Port Byron Riverdale for their season opener. The Rams stunned the Tigers with a 34-18 defeat in last year’s opener.
Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. He has covered Bureau County football since 1986.