Football practice begins

Tom Batters
Eureka coach Brian Johnson

It was only the second day of practice, but Eureka football coach Brian Johnson was in no mood for mistakes Thursday.

“If you don’t know what you’re doing, get off the field! You’re wasting my time! Next group!”

Johnson screamed these commands at his players after they routinely lined up in the wrong formation or went to the wrong spot during a defensive exercise.

“That’s 10 up-downs! Right now!”

If you are a Eureka football player, “10 up-downs” is something you never want to hear.

An “up-down” is a jogging-in-place, push-up sort of drill similar to what you might see in the Army.

Needless to say, it is not fun, especially when the sun is beating down on you and the temperature is in the mid-90s.

Johnson, entering his second season after an 0-9 debut last year, allowed frequent water breaks and let some players kneel on the field for some rest.

But, when it was time for the defense to line up for a blitz drill, it was back to business.

“Hustle! Come on! Let’s go!”

‘Finish the drive’

Metamora coach Pat Ryan was much more laid back on Wednesday, the first day of practice.

He chatted with Kurt Pegler and sat by himself off in the distance as his assistant coaches worked with groups of players.

At the end of the morning session (the heat was already oppressive at about 10:30 a.m.), Ryan gathered all the players together for a grueling “Eight Play Drive” exercise.

The players lined up along the sideline. Ryan stood in the center of the field about 35 yards away.

After the snap count, one group of players had to sprint 35 yards toward Ryan. They had to do this eight times. Each sprint simulated one play in an eight-play drive.

“Finish the drive,” Ryan commanded.

There was a catch, though.

If a player jumped too early, or was not in a proper stance to start the sprint, then Ryan added one more.

Sure enough, somebody jumped.

“You just got one more,” Ryan said. “Don’t start giving in now. We’re only doing nine of these, not a hundred.”

Some players clutched their knees and huffed and puffed before the ninth sprint, but at least it was the last one, right?

Uh oh. Somebody jumped too early again.

“You just got one more,” Ryan said.

Nine sprints became 10.

The point of the exercise was clear: You better have the will to finish an eight play drive. If you get a penalty, then you better have even more will to finish a nine or 10-play drive.

After practice, Ryan made an poignant statement concerning his motives for adding on two more sprints.

“I’m not trying to test their manhood. I’m just trying to get us where we need to be as a football team,” he said.

Ryan said he always gets concerned when the heat gets so oppressive, so he takes precautions.

“We’re responsible for every kid out here. We make sure they drink plenty of water, and, if they’re not feeling well, then we get them out,” he said. “The heat is nothing new. You can’t control it, but you can control how you deal with it.”

Just packing up and going inside is not an option.

“You have to be prepared to play in the heat,” he said. “One year, we played at Belleville and it was 96 degrees at kick off.”

Ryan said he was pleased with the first practice, but he learned a long time ago not to get too up or down after Day One.

“You don’t over-hype that first practice. Is there an expectation? Certainly. It’s important to come out on the first day and set a tempo for how the rest of the practices are going to go,” he said.

I asked him if he was trying anything new, and I expected him to delve into all the new formations and plays he drew up over the summer, but he just smiled and said:

“I’m not that creative. We keep it pretty much the same every year.”