Day 1 of high school preseason football brings a level of excitement and anticipation to the season that lies ahead. Goals are established, teammates bond again and coaches bark out drills and re-teach key fundamentals.
Such was the case Monday, as Vermont’s 34 football programs hit the practice fields, preparing to tackle a fall campaign that comes with the prerequisite set of unanswered questions: What teams will be contenders? Who will have breakout seasons? Answers to those questions and others begin to take shape Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, the opening weekend of the 2012 season.
But the first day was about starting fresh. And it was a moment Essex quarterback Joey Picard had counted down to since last season ended. In fact, he was so pumped setting his alarm clock proved unnecessary.
“I woke up at six in the morning and I was too excited to fall back to sleep,” said Picard, who woke up an hour earlier than he had to. “This is definitely my favorite sport; it’s the sport I’ve wanted to play in college. … The first day is always the best.”
Picard, a senior, will lead a no-huddle, uptempo offense in hopes of returning the senior-laden Hornets to the playoffs for the first time since their undefeated title season in 2009. For any team — playoff-bound or not — Day 1 is a natural setting for new or heightened expectations.
“I think every team, coach or player starts out with visions with making it to the title game or making a run at it. Of course making the playoffs is the way to get there. Certainly at Essex it’s an expectation and everybody feels the pressure,” Essex coach Charlie Burnett said. “We haven’t gotten it done and we have to do what it takes to get there — got to earn that.”
The work of earning it has already begun.
“I just told the kids earlier today, ‘Every little thing you do, every decision you make, every chance you have –either dog it or go all out — changes our fortunes on Friday night,” Burnett said. That’s all you can do, try to inspire them and lead them there.”
While Essex hopes to return to its familiar position of an annual Division I playoff team, Colchester wants to remain competitive in a league it joined for the first time prior to last season. The Lakers were the sixth seed and nearly beat D-I runner-up Middlebury in the quarterfinals.
“It was better than expected,” said Colchester coach Tom Perry of his first year in D-I. “We were just trying to compete and we found out we could. I’m not sure that will happen every year, but most years I think we can compete at this level.”
The Lakers graduated a good chunk — although they return about a dozen players — so a tone setter was needed in the opening practice.
“You don’t start completely over as a varsity team, but Day 1 is tremendously important,” Perry said. “It just gives the energy level for the season. We worked them hard this morning and some of the guys will come out slower this afternoon. Some of the freshmen won’t come back. … You’ll see that.”
Like Essex’s Picard, Bobby Brigante should take the majority of the snaps for the Lakers. And like Picard, Brigante was itching to get back to playing football.
“I’ve been waiting all summer for it — very excited to see how we are going to do this year,” said Brigante, who worked on his skills at Burlington coach Brennan Carney’s quarterback camp earlier this summer. “There’s much work to be done. These next two weeks are going to be huge in how we show up in practice.”
In the end, the results from the double sessions, conditioning and fine details of the offensive systems and defensive strategies are magnified once a week.
“It comes down to those Friday nights. You can wish and hope and build enthusiasm, but then it comes down to ‘Are we going to make the plays on Friday nights?'” Burnet said. “That’s what’s on the line every time we line up.”