Three weeks ago, new Pearl River coach Mike Oliva spent part of one summer workout teaching his players how to huddle. About the same time, new Harrison coach Dom Zanot finally found a moment to, you know, install an offense.
“At Pearl River, we still have to put tape on the helmets to learn names,” Oliva said.
The adjustment is typical for first-year coaches in present-day high school football. With the specialization of sports and the year-round training that is a byproduct of it, there simply is not much time for transition.
Try as they might to fight the notion, most programs with new coaches opened the preseason Monday playing catch-up with opponents, some of which not only attended 7-on-7 tournaments and camps all summer, but began “offseason” workouts mere weeks after last season ended.
Take Zanot’s predicament. He coached at Harrison these last 10 years, but he wasn’t appointed as Art Troilo Jr.’s replacement until July 7. So is he behind?
“I wish I knew,” he said. “I don’t have anything else to compare it to. I just have Harrison to compare it to, and, in regards to where Harrison usually is, we’re not there yet. But we’re not too far away. That’s because of all the commitment and hard work these kids put in over the summer.”
Forty-two Harrison players attended camp at Fairport High School outside Rochester in late July. It amounted to a week-long cram session. Coaches met with players individually on the bus ride up. The team learned an offense by day and studied it by night, and squeezed bonding time in between.
The Huskies visited Bills and Jets practices — a few of them snapping selfies with Michael Vick.
“Given all that happened, I wanted these kids to get out of town,” Zanot said. “I wanted them to get away from Twitter. I wanted them to get away from the local camps so they weren’t written about. And I wanted them to develop a unique identity without any distractions. Getting away allowed that to happen.”
It also allowed them to begin camp Monday with a shot of confidence. Sure, they were behind, but not overwhelmingly so — at least not anymore.
“We’re not cramming it in. We’re going to put more in as time progresses,” Harrison senior Rashan Gilmore said. “We’ve already put in a lot in a short amount of time, but we have kids who can handle it.”
Players have no choice when a new staff comes in during those active summer months. Oliva wasn’t hired at Pearl River until June, and didn’t really begin workouts until July. It was reminiscent of when he took over at Irvington three years ago, but in stark contrast to where that same program sat when preseason opened the last two years.
“Coming into Irvington right now, I’d have my offense installed,” he said. “I’d know who my QB was. I’d know who my running backs were, etc.”
The former Iona Prep quarterback has changed Pearl River’s offense from a shotgun-based spread (hence, learning to huddle) to his familiar wing-T. But Oliva said the challenge of building new relationships with new players can be strengthened and even energized by both sides’ clean slate.
“It’s not a challenge; it’s almost kind of a plus,” he said. “This is totally a clean slate, starting from scratch. And it’s really not much different when you think about it.”
Or, in Oliva’s case, when you don’t have time to.
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