McHenry football coach Dave D’Angelo anticipates two days in the year more than any others.
One is Christmas morning, the other is the first day of football practice.
“[Football first day] is not quite Christmas, but it’s close,” the second-year Warriors head coach said. “I’m older and been doing this a lot of years. You lose a little bit of sleep, definitely, not as much as you used to. There’s still definitely a lot of excitement.”
Wednesday marks the first day of practice for all high school fall sports in Illinois. It also means that football season, the most popular of all high school sports, is only 16 days away.
With all the offseason and summer training, there is a level of familiarity for football coaches and teams with what is going on. Still, the first day is special.
“There’s a lot of work that goes into that first day,” D’Angelo said. “There’s a lot of hours coaches put into preparing, and you hope everything goes just right. It’s a date we’ve all been talking about since the end of last season.”
Richmond-Burton coach Pat Elder says if you don’t feel something extra before the first day of official practice you may need another line of work.
“I won’t need an alarm [Wednesday],” Elder said. “It’s always exciting. It’s changed so much with all you do in the summer, you’re not starting from scratch. There is a different intensity level you have [on the first day] than you have in June and July. Football’s a priority now.”
Teams can practice with helmets on for the first two days, and with helmets and shoulder pads the next three. New IHSA rules say teams can wear full pads on Tuesday, which, Woodstock coach Steve Bears says is when the real fun starts.
“[First day] is exciting, but the players always tell me the night before the first full contact day, when they know they’re going to hit and go full-speed, they get even more excited,” Beard said. “When we’re in only helmets, we’ll get a lot of mechanics and mental stuff done.”
Coaches are allowed contact with players 25 days during the summer. Elder says between the contact days, the offseason conditioning programs and 7-on-7 camps, a great deal of work is done when teams start camp.
“The days of showing up in August and it all being fresh and brand new are over,” Elder said. “We won’t have to walk through drills with the older kids, they’ve been doing them the last two months. Over my coaching life, that’s something that has changed.”
Much of the excitement centers around no team having a loss and most teams aiming for the playoffs as a goal.
“It’s exciting for all the work they’ve put in,” D’Angelo said. “You talk to the parents and hear how excited they area. You see the kids and know how excited they are. There’s all that build-up.”