By Ben Murphy
The road to Ford Field began on Monday as high school football teams across the state began their training camps. Clare was the only team in Clare county to make the playoffs a season ago, but Farwell and Harrison are hoping to get to the magic six wins and reach the post-season this year as well.
Clare went 9-3 last season, picking up Jack Pine Conference and district championships before falling to Menominee in the regional finals.
Kelly Luplow is back for his 26th year as head coach for the Pioneers, and has had 35 players out for varsity so far, all of which are enjoying the remodeled Brookwood Stadium.
“We have a bunch of excited kids,” Luplow said. “They’re practicing hard and we have some kids that are really coming on for us and of course there’s added excitement with the new field. We have some good kids coming back and new kids coming in. It’s only the first week of practice but we feel pretty good.”
As for the turf, the players seem to be in approval after the completion of the first phase of Brookwood 2.0
“We all love it,” senior linebacker Seth Harton said. “It’s one of the best things the community could have done for us. It makes us so proud that the community did this for us.”
The Pioneers open the season Aug. 29 at Freeland, where they will hope to avenge last season’s 10-7 loss.
“A little bit of everything,” Luplow said of what the team is working on in preparation of the season opener, “We’re mainly just working on timing with our offense and working on defensive alignments. It’s mainly just getting the kids legs’ ready to go and work on the essentials the first three days. It’s kind of hard to do a lot when you can’t have pads on. You have to start timing all over again (Thursday- the first day players are allowed pads) because it’s going to change with the little extra weight they’re carrying around.”
Harrison has about two more kids this season than a year ago, giving it 27 kids, which sixth year head coach Mike Petrongelli has liked working with so far.
“They’re a real nice group to work with,” he said. “They’re very quick and very smart. They listen very well. We’ve been talking a lot about our keys, what we’re looking for on defense. They’re doing a good job at that and asking good, intelligent questions. You can tell that they’re paying attention and they know what’s going on out there.”
The Hornets finished last season 3-6, but won three of their last five games and made their two losses close. Petrongelli hopes his team hits the ground running when they open the season Aug.29 at Lake City. Last season the Trojans topped the Hornets 60-7.
“That’s what we’re harping on right now,” Petrongelli said of starting fast. “It took us half of the year to get rolling. We’re trying to get the point across this year that we have to start the season off hard and strong and be ready to play right off the bat. The kids that played last year understand that… They’re pretty fired up.”
Farwell elected to hit the road for camp this year, staying as a team at a camp near Gladwin from Monday through Wednesday evening. The Eagles are hoping that the early season camp can help them improve from last year’s 2-7 record.
“The whole reason we kind of went away to camp was for the kids to get to stay together for two and a half days non-stop,” second year Farwell head coach Alan Esterline said. “They bunk together, eat together, do everything together. We’re trying to create that team unity so that when it becomes game time they can completely trust everybody.”
21 members of the varsity team stayed at camp for the Eagles, and the coach hopes that the three days will help mold his team in the early portion of the season.
“It’s the first year we’ve done this,” Esterline said. “We’ve done football activities and team building activities. They seem to be a pretty tight knit group and are getting along pretty well. It will be interesting to see what happens when it actually becomes practice-practice. I hope that all of this is going to pay off for us in the near future.”
The Eagles open the season Thursday, Aug. 29 at Coleman. The Eagles topped Coleman in a high-scoring 61-54 contest a year ago.
See next week’s issue of the Review for season previews on each county football team.