Connor Sands’ smile said it all as he pondered the feeling of being back on the gridiron practice field Monday with his Highland Bulldogs teammates.
Monday marked the first official day of fall practices for local athletes in the metro-east and across the state of Illinois. For Sands and his teammates, that meant the practice is now the real thing. No more preliminary work. Every day has a purpose from now until November.
Sands, a senior wider receiver, was thrilled to return to the practice field.
“It feels good to come back and be with my teammates and get ready to get after it this season,” Sands said. “It’s a good feeling because fall’s around the corner.”
HHS coach Jimmy Warnecke was also happy to be back working with his players and helping them prepare for another strong season in 2019.
“We’re on our new field now after being at the middle school all summer and we’re trying to get that feeling for the veterans and the coaches that it’s (the season) getting close, so it feels great,” Warnecke said. “We’re excited.”
Highland, like other Illinois programs, was limited to just working in helmets and shoulder pads the first two days of practice this week (Monday-Tuesday), with no contact work allowed. After the second day, teams are allowed to do contact work with blocking sleds and tackling dummies.
“You’re kind of limited with just helmets the first couple of days,” Warnecke said. “There’s a lot of stuff to do and you don’t always have to have a helmet and shoulder pads and all the gear to do it so I think it’s our job as a staff to be efficient with the time we have and find out the things we need to do to challenge the kids.”
The guidelines are in place to allow players to gradually adjust to practice and help them deal with practice in the intense summer heat. The temperature hovered at around 95 at Highland on Monday.
Adjusting to the fall practice routine is not a major issue for the Bulldogs. Sands and his teammates went through a fairly strong and thorough offseason program that included spring and summer workouts that got the players mentally and physically ready for fall drills.
“It (the offseason program) was big for us because it got us ready for all the mental stuff and physical stuff and got us all ready to go,” Sands said. “We got a lot of conditioning in, so we won’t get tired and did a lot of lifting to get stronger and (watching) film, so we would be prepared to start the season.”
Highland maximized its contact days this summer using 23 of its 25 allowed days.
Warnecke said the Bulldogs would primarily focus on conditioning and position technique the first few days of practice.
“Teaching goes on every day,” Warnecke said.
Highland is scheduled to open the season at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, at home against Mount Zion. The past three campaigns, the Bulldogs are a combined 32-4 overall with a 6-3 postseason ledger.