Just about, if not all, high school football coaches and players have circled Monday, Aug. 7 on the calendar — the first day of high school football practice for the 2023 season.
“Since spring ball has been over, we’ve been pretty anxious (for practice to start),” said new Sallisaw coach Brandon Tyler, whose team’s first practice will begin at 5 p.m. Monday. “The summer has gone by extremely fast. I think everyone is looking forward to it. We’re anxious and ready to get going. It’s here again. I think the kids are looking forward to the season. The coaching staff has been meeting, and getting all our coaches on board and ready to go. There’s a lot of excitement right now. We’re just looking forward for that Aug. 7 date to be able to get back out on the practice field and get going again.”
“As a staff, we’re excited for it to get here, get the pads back on the kids and get underway,” said Muldrow coach Logan Coatney, whose team’s initial 2023 practice will begin at 5-6 p.m. Monday with conditioning for an hour, take an hour break, then true practice at 7 p.m. “The kids have been working hard all summer. They know what’s at stake. They understand the culture and tradition here, and what we’re trying to build upon. We’re looking forward to getting back to pads. We’re excited for it.”
“We’re very anxious,” said Roland coach, and graduate, Austin Cantrell, who will have his team’s initial 2023 practice at 9 a.m. Monday after about an hour of light lifting beginning at 7:30 a.m. “We’re very ready to go. The coaching staff has been telling the boys about it every day — ‘Get ready for opening day.’ We play zero week, so it’s a quick turnaround for us. We’re very excited for it (Monday’s first day of practice).”
“We can’t wait,” said Central coach Jeremy Thompson, whose team’s first practice will begin at 6 p.m. Monday. “It’s something the kids and coaches look forward to all year. It’s that starting date. We can get back on the field and practice and start getting ready for the season. Aug. 7 is a big day that we’re absolutely ready for. We have a very experienced group coming back this season. We’re absolutely ready to get started.”
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Vian coach Gary Willis, whose team’s initial 2023 practice will begin at 2 p.m. Monday — “If not too hot. If it’s crazy hot, we’ll adjust. It’s always a big time in Vian. We had a good spring and summer. We’re ready to get started.”
“We’re all geared up, ready to go,” said Gore coach Brandon Ellis, now beginning his second stint as coach of the Pirates — whose first practice will be from 6-8 p.m. Monday. “The kids came in (Monday) to run and workout a little bit to help with that situation (of opening day of practice). They’re all excited.”
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Gans coach Brian Morton, who will have his team’s initial true old-fashioned two-a-days at 3 and 7 p.m. Monday. “We’ve been doing a little bit during the summer, maintaining some conditioning and some workouts. We officially get started on Monday. I have a lot of kids that’s called saying, ‘Are we still on?’ and ‘What are we doing?’ We’ll start our two-a-days on Monday.”
“We’re glad it’s here,” said Webbers Falls coach Trent Holt, whose teams will practice in the evenings, like 5-6 p.m., until school begins the following week. “We’re excited to get started. We have a lot of kids back, but we graduated a lot. I’m looking forward to it. The kids are excited. Our seniors are excited — this will be their last go-round.”
For both Coatney and Ellis, familiarity with players makes this time much easier after taking over new programs.
“There’s a big difference between having a job where you know the kids than not — just having that connection with the kids and the relationship we’ve already built,” Coatney said. “I’ve been on both ends of that spectrum. Once it (the job) opening came out in March that coach Ellis was taking the Gore job, I was offered the job here. We’ve not missed a step. Spring ball went just as planned. The kids were excited and bought in. We had great attendance during the summer.”
“These guys who are going to be seniors now, I had them when I was over here previously,” Ellis said. “In fact, I’ve had them all at one point. They were basically freshmen and junior high kids, so they’re still familiar with me. It’s more comfortable to me as far as familiarity, The kids know how I am and how I work. It’s an easier transition (coming from a previous school) than coming in blind.”
In Cantrell’s instance, he will be head coaching for his second season with the Rangers after being an assistant coach the three previous years.
“I’ve been coaching at Roland for five years, but second year as the head (coach),” Cantrell said. “Knowing the kids is not that big of a deal, it’s more just figuring out the job itself. That was really tough last year. The year before, we did really well. Last year, we had a lot of kids that hadn’t played a lot. We were young and quite frankly undersized. They put in the work in the offseason and winter, and continued to do so during the summer. Physically, we’ve gotten back to where we can compete. Right now, it’s a confidence thing. Our guys last year got down on themselves — even before some of those ball games even started. With the 7-on-7 stuff we did this year and the linemen camps we went to, we did a ton of that. I think we’ve got some confidence now, and now we’re looking to get this thing going.”
Tyler said that if all this hard work, going from the off-season workouts during the spring semester to summer pride to the practices for the actual 2023 season can pay off with a Week 11 game or more for a postseason position, he will be a happy camper.
“Hopefully, we can be playing in November,” said Tyler, who has coached previously at both Gore and Vian. “Our goal is to get to Thanksgiving day and see what happens. If we’re doing that, we’re going to be deep into the playoffs. That’s kind of our goal right now. We just want to get to that point.”