For one night, the sounds of crickets and coaches’ whistles harmonized, as summer unofficially turned to fall.
The Millbrook High School football team ushered in the first official day of preseason with a surreal midnight Sunday practice, that was at once unique and ordinary.
While the Blazers traded the usual unforgiving sun and Monday morning wakeup calls on the first day of practice for peaceful moonlight, 60-degree temperatures and mid-Sunday power naps, their approach to the workout was the antithesis of a typical, lighthearted “Midnight Madness” exhibition.
“It’s no different,” senior quarterback Reggie Colley said. “We still work as hard as possible, no matter what. It’s just a lot cooler.”
There were no cheerleaders or fans in the stands, save for a handful of parents who would be needed to provide rides home when the practice ended at around 2:45 a.m.
There was stretching. There were drills. There were coaches and teammates yelling to urge each other on through the drills.
There was also more than one Blazer using the word “Dome” as a phrase onto itself – a one word motivational goal for where the team wants to finish its season; at the Class C state finals inside Syracuse’s Carrier Dome.
“I don’t know how anyone goes into a football season without going to the Dome as their first goal,” Millbrook coach Sean Keenan said. “If it’s not, then you shouldn’t be coaching and you shouldn’t be playing.”
A year ago, Millbrook steamrolled its eight regular-season opponents with the running game the program has become known for. Then, it fell short in the Section 9 semifinals to James I. O’Neill, and its season was abruptly over.
“It was tough, because we had such a talented group last year, like we do this year, but you have to have a short memory,” senior center Bret Stiscia said. “You just got to come back next year hungrier, ready to do what it takes to win.”
Colley missed the loss to O’Neill due to making “stupid mistakes at school.”
“I learned a lot from it, and I’m ready to play for my team,” the quarterback said. “I’m here. I’m ready.”
That team-first attitude and eagerness to work through the offseason is one reason Keenan said, “This is probably the best group of kids in Millbrook since we’ve taken over the program,” before adding, “I don’t know if it’s the best team.”
The first test for this year’s team comes at Dover on Sept. 6.
Despite graduating a quartet of running backs that totaled nearly 3,500 rushing yards a year ago, led by Henry Cardinal’s 1,606 yards, 17 touchdowns and 25 two-point conversions, Keenan said his team will again have a “stable” in the backfield, including sophomore Delvin Wood and seniors Mike DoCarmo, Leif Christensen and Andre Sousa.
“I have some pretty big goals for myself,” said Wood, who gained 442 yards as a freshman. “I’m going to try to get over 2,000 yards.”
With his front eight on defense intact, Keenan highlighted seniors Jacob Higgins, Chris Carolei and Conor O’Donnell as leaders, calling O’Donnell “one of the most physical kids we’ve had here in quite a few years.”
“Everyone’s bought into the system,” Stiscia said. “So, I think this year can definitely be a special year.”
Despite the unique setting, with a chill in the air and the quiet of the night during water breaks, the practice was nothing new to the Blazers, who have worked together through the summer months in OTAs and camps.
However, Keenan said the midnight kickoff added something extra to what is annually a special day.
“It’s always the first one. This is the one that counts,” he said. “Doing it at night, it’s the novelty of it. The kids were jacked about it. It’s fun, maybe this will be a new thing for us. We’ve got all our kids here. This is our team – 33 kids. Small school football.”