Even for the best of the best, it was a return to Football 101.
Monday’s opening day of high school sports practice brought the initial summer refresher for the Boys of Fall on fields from Greene to Groton, Newark Valley to Norwich, Walton to Waverly and all points between.
Nowhere within Section 4’s boundaries is there a squad with hopes and expectations matching those attached to Maine-Endwell, which retains the meat of a group that strung 12 victories and claimed the 2011 Class A state championship. This time around, the Spartans will compete in Class B.
Yesteryear seemed but a memory, however, given the back-to-basics approach applied bright and early Monday.
“Ball security! Ball security! Ball security!” head coach Matt Gallagher barked while running offensive backs through the paces. “Explode out of the stance! Explode out of the stance!”
Linemen coming off a season of perfection boned up on matters as mundane as the fundamentals of the three-point stance — of course not until after warm-up dashes were performed to overseers’ satisfaction.
“That was a 39-yarder right there,” observed one member of the coaching staff, expressing three feet worth of displeasure. “We go all the way to the line!”
So it goes on Day 1 of a journey one and all dream of extending to a late-November conclusion in the Carrier Dome.
Difficult-but-necessary is the theme early on.
“Whenever you get to play football it’s a day to look forward to,” said Jake Haddock, two-way M-E line stalwart who was first-team all-state a season ago. “Yeah, you’ve heard it before but you can always get better at it. Even if you’ve heard it a million times, you can still improve on what you have, you can still get better at it.”
Over at Chenango Valley, home of Section 4’s two-time defending Class B champions, the morning shift was devoted to conditioning in the form of “Ironman” testing. The nine-event grind staged over several days gauges the lads’ fitness in terms of strength, speed, agility and endurance. They return in the evening for three hours of on-field football work.
“Basically it shows the person who is in the best shape,” said senior Zack Collins, who’ll shift to quarterback from receiver as well as man a defensive position to be determined.
Of Day 1 he said, “We look forward to it every year. We love being able to put the helmet back on, hanging out with your friends between double sessions, just all-around a good time.”
Across the way at Chenango Forks, coaches expressed approval with the squad’s overall football acumen coming off a season that brought rare absence from the playoff picture.
Of the mission at hand, halfback/defensive end Ethan Cook said, “Play Forks football. We definitely want to get back that reputation and just get better every day.
“Really for most of us today isn’t opening day. We’ve been going since the beginning of summer; a lot of guys have been going since last game last year, haven’t left the weight room.”
Cook’s role in the early going? “Leadership,” he said. “I like to keep everybody focused, keep everybody moving. Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves — keep everybody bouncing, jogging to the line.”
Similarly, M-E’s Haddock stated of his function, “Just kind of be there and to do things to the best of my ability so that when I’m in front of the line, they can see me, see what I do, and they can kind of get an idea of what they need to do.”
While work is to be done, a peek ahead here and there cannot be resisted.
“C’mon, you’re tired. That’s when you push yourself! That’s when you push yourself!” M-E coach Gallagher instructed during a drill. “That Dome’s gonna be awfully hot the first week.”
The Spartans oppose Marcellus on Sept. 2 in the Carrier Dome.