MORRIS — Football has become nearly a year-round sport, but there's something special about the day the Illinois High School Association says that teams can officially start their season.
That happened Monday, and the Morris Redskins hit the field with enthusiasm and a mission. After finishing second in the state in Class 4A last season following a 24-21 last-second loss to Rochester in the championship game, they want to bring home a bigger trophy.
That loss was a motivating factor all summer, and coach Alan Thorson said it helped his team put together a strong summer session.
But now, he says, is when the real work begins.
"It does feel different now that the first official day of practice is here," Thorson said. "We did some stuff together all summer. You have your drills, you have your 7-on-7s, we had our camp.
"But now that the official start of the season is here and there's only 18 days until our first game, the intensity is going to ramp up. We feel it as coaches and we can tell the kids feel it. They are excited to get it going."
An added attraction for the excitement is the opening game opponent. After a couple of years of hosting Chicago Austin Polytechnic and rolling to a running-clock victory in the opener, Morris hits the road this year to take on Grundy County neighbor Coal City, a game that should be a bit more intense than the last couple of openers.
"I will put our summer workouts up against anyone else in the state," Thorson said. "Our kids work hard, and we push them to work hard. But, it's still summer and it's a little more laid-back. Now that the season is here for real, you can see a different look in the kids' eyes when they hit the field today. They know what time it is, and it's time to play football."
According to IHSA rules, the first two days of practice are with helmets only, before they can move to helmets and shoulder pads for three days. The first fully-padded, full-contact practice will be Saturday.
"It's almost like taking a step back for us," Thorson said. "We had shoulder pads on during our camp a couple weeks ago. Now, we are back to just helmets for a couple of days.
"That's good, though. We will spend those days reviewing assignments and techniques and doing conditioning. The rules are structured more and more toward player safety, and that's understandable. We will review our blocking and tackling techniques. Every year, there is a new emphasis, and we can take these couple of days to go over them and do things right so we don't get penalties called during the season.
"By the time the first game comes around, we will have enough hitting in that our guys will be more than ready to hit someone other than a teammate."