The first day of high school football practice is special for players and coaches, but no one could blame Belleville West quarterback Sherand Boyd for being just a bit more excited Monday than most.
Not just because he and other area players began the day just 18 days away from Aug. 29 season openers.
Boyd's 2013 season ended with a Week 6 knee injury against Edwardsville on Oct. 4, causing him to miss the final three regular-season games and the Maroons' first-round playoff loss.
He had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament of his left knee and shows no signs of any physical setbacks heading into his senior year.
"It went great and it's stronger than ever. My main goal is completing the season this year, so every day of training I knew I wanted to get better," said Boyd, who ran for 336 yards and five touchdowns last season while throwing for 647 yards and eight TDs. "Sitting out and not being part of it last year was bad for me, it was upsetting. The guys picked me up about it though and we should have a strong season."
Boyd has recruiting interest from Army as well as Northwest Missouri State and Lindenwood-St. Charles. He was thrilled to be at practice even though it began at 7 a.m.
"First practice is usually always exciting for everybody because everybody's amped up," Boyd said. "It was pretty sweet."
"Pretty sweet" does not describe what opposing offensive linemen will be thinking this season when their assignment is trying to block East St. Louis High's 6-foot-4, 298-pound All-American defensive end, Terry Beckner, Jr.
Beckner has scholarship offers from nearly every top Division I program in the country and is considered the No. 1 recruit in Illinois by Rivals.com.
Althoff coach Ken Turner was at school by 4:45 a.m. Monday. He wouldn't have it any other way.
"We were on the field at 6:15," said Turner, whose team reached the Class 4A quarterfinals last season after reaching the 2A state title game in 2012. "There's never enough time for what you want to do. I just got there a little early because I'm excited for the first day, I'm always like this.
"You go through the summer and do everything you can, then you're glad because football comes back around."
However, the 7-on-7 drills and off-season conditioning of the summer give way to actual game preparation.
"The first official day is different," Turner said. "The kids rev it back up because they feel it's the first day leading up to a game."
Althoff has a coaching change, with assistant Austin Frazier taking over as defensive coordinator in place of Matt Lauber. Lauber left after being hired as head coach at Springfield Southeast.
"We already had Coach Frazier on staff and he was already a defensive coordinator in my day, so it was a smooth transition for us," Turner said of the former Althoff linebacker.
Antsy to get on new turf
Former Althoff all-state running back Hickey Thompson recently checked in one of his state championship teammates, Mater Dei coach Jim Stiebel.
Thompson, who was working in the Breese area, wanted to see Mater Dei's new turf field.
"Everybody knows about it," said Stiebel, whose only lament was being unable to use the sparkling new turf field for the first day of practice. "I don't know about the players, but I can't wait to get out there."
Stiebel said workers were applying the finishing touches to the field Monday.
"It's just teasing me right now," he said. "After practice the kids get as close as they can to it without getting yelled at. They take pictures. It looks like a brand-new facility now."
Area producing major recruits
The metro-east recruiting talent pipeline should continue paying dividends down the road.
O'Fallon junior running back Kentrail Moran, East St. Louis sophomore receiver Jeff Thomas and Edwardsville sophomore defensive end A.J. Epenesa are considered among the best in the nation at their positions by Rivals.com.
Moran (5-10,195) is considered a four-star recruit by Rivals (out of five stars) and already has scholarship offers from Michigan, Illinois, Kansas, Syracuse, Indiana and Northern Illinois.
Thomas (5-10, 170), who burst onto the area scene as a freshman last season, has offers from Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Illinois, Texas A&M, Indiana and Syracuse.
Epenesa (6-5, 230), injured as a freshman, is the son of former Iowa player Eppy Epenesa and brother of Purdue volleyball player Sam Epenesa.
A.J. Epenesa's recruiting stock continues to rise with offers already in hand from Iowa, Florida State, Utah, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Washington State, Wisconsin and Oregon State according to Rivals.com.
Belleville East coach Tim Funk has seen a lot of first days of practice as a player and a coach in college and high school.
"The first day really isn't the first day any longer because of what everybody does in the summer," Funk said. "But we're about where we need to be right now. We got a chance over the spring and summer to see what guys can and can't do."
East returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
"There are teams in our conference, who on paper are better than us," Funk said. "That's the reality of it. And we have to play two teams that were 8-1 last year in Normal and Normal West. The only reason they didn't go further was that they got beat by East St. Louis in the first and second round (of the playoffs)."