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Football teams get an early start on season

Somerset head coach Bruce Larson (left) and St. Croix Central head coach Tony DiSalvo (right) watch as two of their players battle in a drill designed to improve linemen’s ability to block in a confined space. 1 / 6
Both teams were definitely playing at full speed when the Somerset and St. Croix Central football teams scrimmaged last week.2 / 6
St. Croix Central quarterback Kyle Larson stands tall in the pocket as he releases a pass during the 11-on-11 practicing done during the scrimmage between the Panthers and the Somerset football team last Wednesday. 3 / 6
Somerset quarterback Reed Baillargeon (51) tries to break to the outside while pursued by a pack of St. Croix Central defenders during last Wednesday’s football scrimmage. 4 / 6
St. Croix Central running back Cody Gostovich broke into the open for good yardage on this play in last Wednesday's scrimmage.5 / 6
St. Croix Central receiver Josh Freyholtz leaps high to catch a pass during the scrimmage between the Panthers and the Somerset football team in their contact day last Wednesday.6 / 6

Football season is underway.

It’s hard to believe, but the official start of the 2014 WIAA football season is just over a month away. Each football team gets five contact days during the summer. Most of those teams are electing to take their contact days early in the summer. Somerset and St. Croix Central held their contact days last week and New Richmond is using its days this week.

Somerset and St. Croix Central continued their recent tradition of practicing against each other twice during the five contact days. The two teams met in Somerset last Wednesday, then at Central last Friday.

For the Somerset and Central teams, last week’s early combined camp gave both squads more experienced opponents to practice against. They get to do 11-on-11 scrimmages against another varsity-level team, instead of just practicing against their own younger reserves for a week.

“It gets you a little ahead of the game,” Central coach Tony DiSalvo said of the early contact days. He said it irons out many of the administrative issues like making sure all of the players have all the necessary equipment for the start of practice in August. By going with early contact days, any injuries incurred during the week will have sufficient time to heal before practices begin.

The more important reasons for the early contact days come on the tactical and personnel sides. By getting to see the players in action a month before the season, the coaches can assess where players are in their development curve. By getting this early start, they can gauge their depth and make any necessary position changes to be sure they have varsity-ready players at every position.

The tactical side is important for teams making scheme changes heading into a new season. DiSalvo said that Central is making some alterations to its offensive scheme. The Panthers used the contact days to install two batteries of running plays that will be key components in their new offensive plan.

Every play and every drill in the scrimmages is videotaped, so the coaches have more than a month to review the videos and make any changes they deem necessary.

Coaching staffs also go through changes each year and this provides the new coaches an opportunity to get comfortable in their new positions. St. Croix Central underwent a major change, with Ben Lamb stepping down as defensive coordinator to spend more time with his family. John Tackmann moves up from the junior high level to become the Panthers’ new defensive coordinator.

“It’s a good way to kick off the summer,” DiSalvo said. “We were really happy. We got a lot accomplished.”

The coaches said having the contact days early also reminds players that the football season isn’t that far away. They said it seems to spur a renewed interest in working hard in the weight room, so the players are in peak condition when practices begin in August.

Dave Newman
Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for nearly 30 years.
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