By Ben Murphy
One team is hoping to continue its strong tradition. One team is hoping a new coach makes the difference. One team is hoping to turn the corner. All three county high school football teams began practice on Monday, all with higher hopes than ever.
Clare looks to continue tradition
“I think everything is going well,” Clare senior quarterback, defensive back Ryan Seiter said. “We’re starting to come together as a family and that’s huge. When you’re around each other this much you get to love each other and that’s great.”
Though new MHSAA rules prohibits teams from going full contact for most of the first week of practice, the Pioneers, who went 7-3 and won their seventh straight Jack Pine Conference championship last year aren’t letting that keep them from working hard in practice.
“Our team is a physical group of guys,” Seiter said. “Even though it’s not full pads yet, we treat it like it is. Everyone has been waiting for the season to start so now that it’s here everybody has gone nuts.”
The Pioneers will face a daunting task in their first game of the season, as they play Ithaca Friday, Aug. 29. The Yellowjackets are the four-time defending state champions in division six and are riding the nations longest winning streak at 56 games.
“They’re going to be hard but we’re surprising ourselves with how hard we’ve been hitting,” senior tight end, defensive end Paul Cole said. “We’ve been together since youth football so they’re going to have it hard on them too.
“I think playing a hard team off the bat will make us better,” Cole added. “We just have to keep raising the bar and making it harder for our opponents.”
Farwell has new coach
The Eagles went 1-8 overall and 0-7 in the Jack Pine Conference last year, yet first year head coach Ben Bryant isn’t worried
about what happened before he was in control.
“Things are going great so far,” he said. “There’s a bit of a learning curve for a lot of the kids. We have a new system on offense, a new system on defense and even a new system mentally.”
The Eagles have just 20 players in camp, but Bryant feels it’s still a good number to have considering his squads work ethic.
“They’re catching on real quick, a lot of the kids have put in time over the summer in the weight room and learning the playbook,” he said. “We would like to have more players but I’d rather have 16-to-20 hard working kids than have 30 kids and 15 of them be soft.”
While Bryant is in his first year as head coach, he has been around the program the last two years as an assistant, something the players think will help as well.
“He’s been a coach in other sports too and we knew he was going to be our coach back in the winter,” junior quarterback, corner back Austin Maxey said. “We’ve been working pretty hard. I feel like we’re getting stronger as a team. Hopefully we come up big this year.”
The Eagles open up the season on Thursday, Aug. 28 against Coleman, a team they lost to 36-19 last year.
“We’re definitely happy to be here, we’re happy to be here and we’re getting mentally tough as well as physically tough,” senior fullback, linebacker Noah Wilson said. “We’re definitely thinking about Coleman. They beat us last year but we’re looking forward to seeing if we can change that this year.”
Harrison looks to take next step
Even though they haven’t had a winning season since 2000, the Harrison Hornets are quite optimistic about the 2014 campaign. With a roster packed full of 40 players, most of which played on an undefeated junior varsity team it’s hard to imagine expectations being anything but high.
“It’s going good, we have a lot of kids so I can’t complain,” seventh year head coach Mike Petrongelli said. “They’re working hard and their attitudes have been good. The varsity is about split in half with juniors and seniors.”
On top of having 40 members out for varsity, the Hornets have 36 on the junior varsity squad.
“We have it well organized,” Petrongelli said of practices that contain over 75 athletes in the program. “As the week goes on we will evaluate more and more. It’s much nicer to have this amount of kids than not enough.”
Senior center, defensive end Clay Dennis likes what he sees as well.
“We’re seeing a lot of progress,” he said. “Everyone is coming together. I think we’ll be successful if everyone can come together and do their job. We’re thinking that this is the year.”
The Hornets open the season at home against Lake City on Aug. 28. The Hornets, who went 2-7 overall and 2-5 in the JPC fell to the Trojans 45-0 in last year’s season opener. Lake City went on to the third round of the playoffs and took second place in the talent-laden Highland Conference.
“There’s a lot of excitement about this team within in the community,” senior tight end, middle linebacker Bret Coughlin said. “Everyone wants to make the playoffs but we need to take it one game at a time. We’re really focused on Lake City, they beat us pretty good last year. We want to get off to a fast start though. Our non-conference games are important to get us going.”
Photos by Ben Murphy