Montrell Betts runs with the football during Start’s first practice on Friday. THE BLADE/LORI KING
The chirping sounds of whistles filled the air and atmosphere on Friday morning in an open field adjacent to the West Toledo YMCA.
Along with the steady whistle tweets came plenty of activity in response.
Running, catching, rolling, blocking — clear indicators that another high school football season was officially in session.
“Obviously, the excitement of the first day is like a little kid on the night before Christmas, you’re always anticipating it,” Start football coach Tyson Harder said as he and his coaching staff took the Spartans through their first workout of the season.
“Overall, you’re looking forward to seeing the results of all the hard work you’ve put in leading up to this point.”
On the first day of high school football practice, the players are limited to working out in helmets, T-shirts, and shorts.
The drills are limited to running, calisthenics, passing, and catching.
Putting the shoulder pads on and practicing at full speed and holding full-contact scrimmages must wait until next week.
In the meantime, Harder, who enters his fifth season in charge of the Spartans’ program, witnessed approximately 40 players enthusiastically running and jumping around on the field.
“The kids are hungry,” he said. “We went through growing pains last year playing a lot of young kids. The kids are excited. We have a ton of kids coming back, and the competition has grown this year.”
Start was one of 723 high school football teams across the state Friday where coaches could officially begin holding practices.
At Steinecker Stadium in Perrysburg, uptempo rock music blared from the loud speakers as the Yellow Jackets ran through drills.
It was the first afternoon session of two-a-day practices, and spirits were high among the defending Northern Lakes League champions.
“There are no pads on, but it’s at least close to real football,” Perrysburg coach Matt Kregel said. “We’re running real plays and real coverages.
“It’s good having everyone together and letting them have fun.”
Kregel is entering his ninth season at the helm of the Perrysburg program. Kregel, who graduated from Central Catholic in 1987 and was a three-year starter at offensive tackle for Bowling Green State University, said his team will run through 14 days of split-session practices.
“It’s always been a grind,” Kregel said.
“A guy like me who was a pretty decent player but had to work hard at it, this is where you made your mark. This is where we get that chance. Nobody likes the grind. But it’s a necessary evil to become a good football team.”
Senior quarterback Gus Dimmerling, who threw for 1,464 yards and rushed for 1,076, was upbeat.
“I’m having a great time already,” said Dimmerling, who led the Yellow Jackets to the program’s first playoff win last season. “I’m excited to get it going. I’m loving two-a-days so far. Everyone is really enjoying themselves.”
Kregel and his staff focused on drills that hone footwork and body positioning, under warm, but not oppressive, weather conditions. Each position group also worked on individual drills.
“So, when we are ready to put the pads on, they know the nuts and bolts of what we want to do,” Kregel said.
During the morning practice, Kregel said he outlined the coaches’ expectations and the theme of the season.
Perrysburg went undefeated in the NLL (8-0) to win the program’s first title since 2006.
The Yellow Jackets will be tested right out of the gate. They play at traditional power Whitmer in the season opener on Aug. 29. They then host another strong Three Rivers Athletic Conference team, Central Catholic, on Sept. 12.
“These guys really have to come to play because they are not the underdog any more. They are the hunted,” Kregel said.
“We will have to be really good to match that. We want to set that tone.”
Meanwhile at Start, the Spartans are coming off a disappointing season in which they finished second in the City League race, which was won by Bowsher.
Nevertheless, the Spartans figure to be a serious contender in the six-team league, and Harder believes how they approach the beginning of the season gives him a good indication of what he can expect from the group the rest of the way.
“The first couple of days set the tone for the rest of the season,” Harder said. “The first days are usually the hardest on the kids and it’s the hardest on the coaches, but it’s supposed to be.
“You’re supposed to get through that brick-wall mentality so you can start seeing the success of the hard work.”
And so the annual chirping sounds tied to football drills are being heard near Start and across Ohio once again.