The school year may not start for another few weeks, but for many football teams across the state, summer unofficially ended on Monday.
Monday marked the first day of practice for teams that did not participate in spring football practice to begin conditioning and skills exercises. The first day contact is allowed is Friday.
As the band marched in the parking lot in the distance, the Ryan Raiders strapped on their blue helmets and started their journey to return to the playoffs for the 14th straight year.
“We’re a little more confident this year,” Ryan head coach Joey Florence said. “I told the kids today anything short of a state championship is not acceptable. They’re attitude is that, and it’s been our attitude.
“I think last year, we were trying to feel our way through [Class] 5A a little bit. But this year, there’s no issues with it. We expect to go make a run at it.”
Denton and defending Class 4A Division I state champion Guyer will begin practice next Monday, as well as fellow District 5-4A member Lake Dallas.
All three teams participated in spring practice, extending their collective summers for yet another week.
But for the Raiders, preparation for their second season in the state’s highest classification began early Monday morning.
Last season, in Ryan’s first year in 5A since 2005, the Raiders went 6-5, finished second in District 5-5A and clinched a playoff berth in the last week of the season.
Ryan was bounced out of the playoffs by Cedar Hill in the 5A Division II area round. Cedar Hill went on to lose in the 5A Division II state title game to Katy.
Florence said a month of resting in July yielded an excitement to return to the field. The head coach said what’s most important in the first week of practice is teaching his players and get them conditioned.
“It’s always rusty,” Florence said. “We give them the month of July off, so yeah, they’re not polished by any means. But we’re ahead of where we were last year. It’s a veteran squad.”
Argyle ahead offensively
With a poor taste left in their mouths following last season’s third-round playoff exit, the Eagles were champing at the bit to get practice started on Monday morning. When they started, they were well ahead of the curve in installing a new offense thanks to some good work back in the spring with new offensive coordinator Shay Nanny.
Argyle head coach Todd Rodgers said the offense will look the same to the untrained eye, but he was happy his team entered Monday with a lot of work under Nanny in the rear-view mirror.
“I think it was critical that the superintendent and board of trustees allowed me to bring in the offensive coordinator in the spring,” Rodgers said. “That was the most important part was to get that done. He got to work for approximately 40 days with the kids [during the athletics class period] and I think that’s the most important aspect of adjusting to the new offense.
“Him working during the spring and getting the terminology and offense installed — or at least 75 percent of it — was critical to where we are right now. I’d hate to be learning the offense right now.”
Argyle kicks off the regular season Aug. 30 at Abilene Wylie for a high-profile matchup with the Bulldogs.
Krum begins early
At the stroke of midnight Sunday, the bounce house in front of Krum’s Bobcat Stadium had been deflated. The water in the dunk tank was already spilled along the pavement and two parallel lines formed near the west end of the field.
From the intersection of Interstate 35 and FM1173, the lights at Bobcat Stadium shined in a sea of darkness.
Krum kicked off its first practice of the season Monday morning just past midnight for the fifth straight year. For Krum senior quarterback Caz Wojciak, it was a welcome sign to the start of the season.
“I remember seventh-grade year, we had kids that couldn’t even put on their helmet — kids that are asking how to put on chinstraps, don’t even know where the kneepads are going,” Wojciak said. “Now we’re all up here getting after it.”
Celina bounced Krum out of the 3A Division II playoffs in the Bobcats’ first year in University Interscholastic League district play.
Krum head coach Gary Robinson said those who came out to the midnight practice showed the team how much community support it has.
Several people were there to watch the first step in what Robinson described as just the beginning of the August grind.
“Some of these guys are out of shape and winded going through warm-ups, but that’s what two-a-days are for,” Robinson said. “You have to mentally prepare yourself to get through that grind and be a better athlete and a better football player by the time we get to that first game [versus] Caddo Mills.”
Sanger switches things up
As Class 3A programs began preparations for another season, several North Texas programs celebrated with Midnight Madness as practice began at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
A few miles north of Denton, Sanger hoped a midnight start would help spur a more promising season after a disappointing one.
“We had a rough year — an 0-10 record — and we want to change that,” Sanger sixth-year head coach Chuck Galbreath said. “We had a long off-season. We decided we didn’t want to wait any longer than a minute to start a new season.”
In its first Midnight Madness practice, Sanger had several hundred parents and students in the stands as music blared over the stadium loudspeaker with selections from Kenny Chesney’s “Boys of Fall” to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” while the players went through their pregame inflatable tunnel.
In its first year at Sanger, players were enthusiastic to get another season started. One of the larger enrollment schools in District 9-3A, Sanger has built its off-season workouts with a “Payback Tour” theme. The optimism of a new season has been building since last November.
“I came up here at 9:30 [p.m.]. I was at home and told my mom I just couldn’t wait any longer,” senior defensive end Dalton Hassell said.
An 1984 Sanger graduate, Galbreath kept a basic approach to his first effort at midnight practice to enhance enthusiasm without other trappings. But, of course, if Sanger rebounds with a strong season as hoped, an early-morning practice to start each season may become the new normal.
“I’m not really superstitious,” Galbreath said. “But if something is working, I usually try and keep it going.”
Aubrey starts with passing focus
The Aubrey Chaparrals got their workouts started on Monday as well and a quarterback competition is one of the storylines heading into the season.
Senior Mason Robinson and sophomore Rylee Hellman are competing for the quarterback position, but head coach Mike Segleski is hoping the senior can claim the job.
“We are hoping Mason can win the job because Rylee is our top cornerback, he’s our punt returner, and he’s one of our top two receivers,” Segleski said. “He can run the ball well, also. I’d rather see other things he can do well for us.”
With the passing game lacking last year, Segleski said there was a focus on the aerial attack in practice, along with a few tweaks on the defensive side.
“Besides being hot, it was pretty good,” Segleski said. “Defensively, we are changing a little bit. We are running a hybrid 3-4 system and offensively, we aren’t changing. We worked on fundamentals. It seems like a joke to a lot of people, but we hope to throw for 100 yards a game. We are going to run 300 or 400 yards a game. We are a running team. This year, our goal is to work on our passing game. It doesn’t seem like a lot of yards, but if we can get that, we think we will have a chance to win ball games and be competitive. We can’t have people daring us to throw the ball. We have to change that.”
Aubrey also has some returning players who have recovered from crucial injuries that should add to some consistency back into the fold.
“We had a 101 kids come out,” Segleski said. “We had one of our best offensive lineman, Weston Osterman, lost in first game of preseason last year. He broke his tibia and fibula. He’s back, and he’s been fully released [to play].”
Fullback Sam Heath and running back Daniel Longhenry were also lost last year to ACL injuries.
“It’s just big having them back for the offensive huddle,” Segleski said.
Pilot Point searching for experience to flourish
Pilot Point is looking to build on their 7-3 season last year, and head coach Rob Best was encouraged by the team’s attitude on Monday.
“About 85 players are ready to go,” Best said. “We got started and for the most part, it was very positive. We had good energy. I was very pleased with how the first day went. We had new coaches and they fit right in and the kids responded. It was a really good start.”
Best and the Bearcats have their goal set to make the playoffs this year after barely missing out last season.
“You work during the summer with conditioning, [and] it’s just exciting to see the players come back and respond how they did,” Best said. “We’re really anxious to see if they can take the next step. We went 7-3 last year and got bounced out by the tiebreaker. We don’t want to rely on the tiebreaker ... [we want to] rely on ourselves to be a playoff team.”
With the Bearcats’ experience spread thin on the offensive line, Best looks toward the younger lineman to claim their opportunity to evolve.
“Our thing is, we’ve got some depth at the skill positions so we’ll have some good numbers at that,” Best said. “Our biggest problem is our offensive line is pretty undetermined. We’ve got to identify three or four lineman. We’ve got two seniors. Other than that, we’re relying on JV [junior varsity] players and players that haven’t played that position. We need to develop a real strong unit. If we can do that, we have an opportunity for success.”
Junior quarterback Travis Garrett will have to step up in Best’s mind to lead the crop of experienced players and set an example for the mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen.
“They were really enthusiastic,” Best said of the underclassmen. “We had the best part of the day, and I think from the freshman, it’s new for them and they are big-eyed. We are kind of a mix. Travis Garrett is young, but he’s got some experience. We’ve got lots of players like that. We’ve got 14 or 15 seniors and 49 juniors and 31 sophomores, but a lot of those underclassman have game experience. They know what to expect and they brought the enthusiasm to practice.”
Ponder’s new coach confident, excited
It’s been a while since Glen Schuelke has been in the position he was in on Monday morning.
Fourteen years ago at this time, Schuelke was starting a program at Prairiland. When he took the job at Ponder last month, he set himself up to be in a tough situation with practice just around the corner.
On Monday, that day came for Schuelke, and the veteran head coach was happy with his new team’s response on the opening day of fall practice.
“I thought it went well,” said Schuelke, who had approximately 56 players report on the first day. “For the first day and me being new in a new system, I thought it went well.”
Schuelke added he believes Ponder is further along in the process than Prairiland was when he arrived there in 1999 and believes the Lions can win, and win soon.
“The first day you meet the kids, it’s important what is said and that they understand what we’re trying to do,” Schuelke said. “Those kids understand our goal is to get in the playoffs. We have a chance. We have to improve every day.”
Staff writers Adam Boedeker and Patrick Hayslip and The Dallas Morning News contributed to this report.