Smiles were aplenty Monday morning during Omaha North's first football practice of the new season.
No more bus rides to another field. No more practices on synthetic turf so worn that it was like landing on concrete.
The Vikings were running their drills on new turf that replaced a 20-year-old surface. It got to the point that last year the school bused the team to the turf field at Blackburn School, 26th and Hamilton Streets, for practices.
“That got old,” senior wide receiver/defensive back Reggie Holt said. “It actually took time away from what we needed to work on for that week.”
Monday was the first day for high schools in Nebraska to start their fall sports practices in football, softball, girls golf and boys tennis. Cross country and volleyball begin their workouts next Monday.
The season's first softball games and girls golf contests are Aug. 16. Football and boys tennis have their first contests on Aug. 23, with cross country and volleyball on Aug. 30.
North wasn't alone Monday in working out on a new field. Beatrice opened practice at its new campus stadium at 12:01 a.m. Johnson-Brock and Omaha Skutt also have new synthetic-turf fields, as does Pawnee Park in Columbus, where Columbus and Columbus Scotus play.
“It's a lot nicer to come out the back door and go to practice,” North senior quarterback Zach Martin said. “I wish the field had an ‘N' on it, though. I'd like to have something in the middle.”
His father, head coach Larry Martin, said the renovated facility — the six-lane track around the field also was replaced — is an asset to the school's neighborhood.
“This is OPS continuing to show a commitment to its athletic program,” coach Martin said.
The Vikings are coming off a 3-6 season in which they missed out on the playoffs for the second straight year. They return eight starters on offense, including Zach Martin, and five on defense as they prepare for their Aug. 24 season opener at Omaha Benson.
“It's a neighborhood game,” Zach Martin said. “Maybe it's not as big as Central, but it's still a big game for us.”
Schools that have new coaches in the Omaha area include Bellevue West (Craig Moraski), Benson (Tony Kobza), Omaha Bryan (Jeff Kezeor), Omaha Northwest (Tim Clemenger), Douglas County West (Brant Loewe), Elkhorn Mount Michael (Jon Borer), Elkhorn South (Guy Rosenberg), Louisville (Bob Fuller), Plattsmouth (Bob Dzuris) and Weeping Water (Adam McGill).
Benning at North as assistant
Former Omaha Northwest head football coach Damon Benning is an assistant coach at Omaha North, helping with outside linebackers and running backs.
“We're fortunate to get him,” Larry Martin said. “I had approached him previously, before he went to Northwest.
“We had an opening on the staff, and he's been a really good fit.”
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