Welcome to what should be a very different 2015 prep football season, which commences Monday across the state.
Everything is different, from fewer practices to the lack of scrimmages to the early start of the games, not to mention the formation of districts and new sections for many area teams.
Conferences are out. Districts are in. That was all formulated more than a year ago.
This year, everyone in the state has their first game on a Saturday (Aug. 22), an unusually early start. Some schools, including Sauk Rapids, will have played three games by the time school starts. (Sauk Rapids begins school Sept. 8).
“It is going to be different,” Apollo head coach Justin Skaalerud said. “The toughest part for us is following all the rules.”
Part of the odd scheduling is because of the late Labor Day holiday (Sept. 7). Part of it is because TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, which is host to the Prep Bowl, is booked when the high schools have traditionally had their biggest state tournament games. The University of Minnesota has priority over scheduling and has two late November games.
With stadium options limited, coaches voted for one of two choices: Move everything up, with two August games, or limit the playoffs to only teams in the top four in their section. Coaches chose the first option so as to not limit playoff opportunities. Everyone, regardless of record, plays in the playoffs.
“It’s still dramatically less practice time and less contact,” Tech head coach Gregg Martig said. “How much it affects everyone, time will tell.”
New rules include no contact the first week of drills. Teams may practice no longer than two hours at one time. There will be only 10 days of practice before the first games. The idea was for safety purposes, though not everyone is buying it.
“You’ve got to make very efficient use of your time,” Sartell head coach Scott Hentges said.
Eden Valley-Watkins head coach Jon Thielen is no fan of the new rules. He believes limiting the number of practices and the amount of contact actually will hurt kids, not help them.
“There will be less learning,” he said.”It’s stupid.”
Sartell pushed its team camp to the end of July, enabling the coaching staff to start putting in some schemes for the season.
The Sabres were not unique.
Varsity teams were allowed 11 practice days over the summer. Most schools took advantage, scheduling team camps and passing scrimmages. Apollo took 50 players to a team camp in Brookings, South Dakota.; Sauk Rapids had 39 go to one in Duluth.
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Coaches question whether all that will be enough.
“I think there’s a lot more uncertainty going into the first game,” Hentges said. “When you have a scrimmage, it allows you to evaluate players and it gives everybody a whole extra week to work on things, develop skills and techniques.
“Now, we’re playing after 10 days of practice. That second week, we have to to treat it as a game week. It’s going to be difficult teaching a lot of skills.”
Like Sartell, Tech had its team camp in the end of July and also scrimmaged Becker, the defending state Class 4A champion.
“We’ve really focused our summer workouts much more so than in the past and back-loaded everything to the last two weeks of July,” Martig said. “We didn’t even go outside in June and then amped it up in July.”
All agree that the rule changes will affect the games, though no one is sure how.
“What we find challenging is because we have such limited contact (including none the first week), we’re going to be limited in teaching (tackling),” Sauk Rapids head coach Bill Magnuson said. “We feel like the one-on-one (contact drills) are vital to getting ready for the season.”
With less practice time, experienced teams may benefit.
“I think most coaches feel sure about their key players, especially the ones who are back as starters,” Magnuson said. “But for a lot of players, we’re not as sure about them until we actually start hitting. … There is not as much time to get in your reps and make evaluations.”
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Being limited to two-hour chunks for practice means some teams will use down time for a chalk talk and video study. Many teams will take a break to do that, then go back out on the field.
“We’ll be spending more time in the classroom,” Rocori head coach Mike Rowe said. “There will be a lot more two-a-days out there than there have been in the past.
“I think we’ve got to get more done in less time. … For us, that’s when we found out we can get a lot done in two hours.
“There’s no messing around.”
Follow Tom Elliott on Twitter @sctimestom or call 259-3661.