High school football teams opened up two-a-day practices Monday with an eye ahead on the upcoming season openers.
While this time is important for teams around the state, the upcoming three weeks are especially vital for programs like Grand Island Senior High.
The Islanders are coming off an impressive 9-2 season, but a talented senior class full of multi-year starters has moved on.
That means there is plenty of work to be done at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s very important because we need guys to immerge right now,” Islander head coach Jeff Tomlin said of the next three weeks of practices. “If you’ve got your eyes on a spot – heck, there’s only one returning starter and he’s not guaranteed a spot – all 22 spots and special team spots are open. Go get them.
“We have much less returning experience, so there’s a greater urgency for some of these guys fighting for jobs.”
Despite open battles for every starting position, Tomlin said practices won’t necessarily look different from the years in which the Islanders returned more experience.
“We don’t necessarily ramp it up or down,” he said. “We still do it hard. We just might do it a little different and build it to our strengths. …
“Our strengths seem to be some team quickness, we’ve got four or five guys who can run the ball and seem to be able to catch the ball pretty darn well, we’ve got an athletic quarterback and our line is quicker, not bigger. So we’re shaping our offense and defense around our personnel towards our strengths.”
The Islanders should also look familiar to anyone who has watched them play under Tomlin when they kick off Aug. 24 at home against Lincoln Northeast.
“We’ll always tinker here, tinker there and change this or change that to fit our strengths, but you’ll see primarily what we’ve done,” Tomlin said. “It’s kind of like having a cookbook. We don’t need to cook it all, we just need to cook what we like best and what suits our players the best.
“We won’t necessarily do the exact same things we did last year. It’s still going to be in the playbook, but we won’t necessarily do all the same things. We’ll just take pages out of the playbook and emphasize those.”
Grand Island Senior High’s players were streaming off the field a little after 1 p.m. Monday already completing their first session of two-a-days.
They’ll keep a similar schedule for the week, avoiding the heat, before holding a scrimmage Saturday.
“It’s always exciting to start that first day and a brand new slate with some new kids,” Tomlin said. “Putting some pieces of the puzzle together is really challenging. That’s really fun. It’s always something I really look forward to. And I think the kids are excited.”
The number of players reporting is similar to previous seasons.
“We’re carrying about 115 to 120 ninth through 12th (grades),” Tomlin said. “We’re right in that vicinity. I’d like to have more, but we love the guys we’ve got out and we won’t worry about the guys we don’t.”
The work has begun to prepare for a schedule that opens with Lincoln Northeast, Lincoln Southwest and Omaha Westside.
“This might be one of the most challenging schedules we’ve had since I’ve been in Grand Island,” Tomlin said. “We’re looking forward to that. We embrace that and we know to be one of the best we’ve got to go and touch gloves with the absolute best.
“We think we face as good a (non-district schedule) as anyone in the state.”
Joining football teams in beginning practices Monday were softball, boys tennis and girls golf squads. Volleyball and cross country teams get practices under way next week.