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Offensive linemen for the St. Bede football team run through drills this morning at the Academy. Today is the first day of official practices for prep football teams around the state. This year, teams are practicing under the new IHSA acclimatization policy. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
As the 2013 prep football season kicks off today with the opening practice sessions, area coaches are sure to be intently watching their young charges as they prepare for the opener Aug. 30.
They’re also watching the clock.
This year, getting ready for the prep gridiron got a little bit more complicated as the Illinois High School Association implemented new guidelines outlining limits for practice time and equipment usage during the opening two weeks of practice.
For example, today’s opening sessions through Saturday’s practices are limited to a combined total of three hours in length with an additional one-hour walkthrough. Teams looking to hold two-a-days must also include a minimum of two hours break between all practices, and Sunday will be a mandated day of rest.
Today and tomorrow, squads will be limited to helmets only for practice.
Shoulder pads will be thrown in the mix Friday, and full pads won’t be donned until Tuesday, when teams can go live with full-contact drills.
For area schools like La Salle-Peru and Hall, which also started school today, the time limitations won’t throw too big a wrench in coach’s practice playbooks as they will head to practice today after school.
“This year it hasn’t had a whole big effect on it because we’re back in school again. We’re going to run our normal practice after school — it’s going to be a little longer is all,” Hall coach Randy Tieman said.
L-P coach Joe Sassano agreed.
“The acclimatization and how many hours you can go doesn’t affect us because we’re starting school the same day football starts, so we’re only looking at one practice,” Sassano said.
St. Bede doesn’t have school today, so doubles were a possibility, but the Bruins’ staff elected to go with one three-hour practice instead of splitting up into two sessions.
St. Bede athletic director Tom McGunnigal said there has been no problem by the IHSA in spreading the message of its new acclimatization period’s policies.
“When they made the policy, the IHSA hosted a webinar. John (Bellino, St. Bede’s football coach) and I sat down and watched it together,” McGunnigal said. “It was very informative. We were able to ask questions and see the questions being asked by other athletic directors and other coaches as well. The use of technology was great.”
McGunnigal said after discussing the new time restrictions with the Bruins football coaching staff that one thing became apparent.
“As they stated, it has really put an onus on the coaches to be very creative when it comes to planning their practices,” McGunnigal said.
The new regulations on equipment usage — full pads won’t be allowed until Tuesday — will have teams slightly behind their usual schedules.
“They’re cutting down the full pads by two days. We’re not going to be hitting until the Tuesday before the actual Red-White Scrimmage,” Tieman said. “It’ll make a little bit of difference. The way our numbers are — we’re a little bit thin — we’re not going to be doing as much hitting as we have in the past anyway. But it does constrain you on time a little bit.”
Sassano said that one positive benefit of the equipment acclimatization is a focus on learning the aspects of proper tacking form with light-contact drills.
“The best approach is not necessarily letting somebody unload on somebody else. If we were practicing in full pads from Day 1 — not like we do in the summer time with the shorts, shoulder pads and helmets — (we’d miss out on) a lot of form, leverage and angle drills.”
Both Sassano and Tieman think most coaches already did the right things when it came to ensuring player safety.
Tieman said most of his colleagues already balanced August’s hot weather with the rigorous physical demands of football.
“If it heats up, most coaches take precautions for that anyways,” Tieman said. “I know what (the IHSA) is trying to do, but it does restrict and restrain you.
“The way they deal with concussions and everything now — it’s safety first. I agree with that, but it’s just that they’ve mandated everything for us now. They’ve taken away our chances of us doing wrong.”
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Christopher Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.