The yell could be heard across Tiger Stadium Wednesday morning.
“If you have to puke, don’t do it on the turf!” Centralia football coach Jeremy Thibault called out to his team. “Go off to the grass!”
Being the opening day of football practice for Washington high schoolers, it was necessary advice. It’s been 151 days — almost five months — since the Tigers took their last snap in a season finale against Elma on March 20. It’s safe to say not everyone is quite yet in football shape.
Nevertheless, Thibault and his slew of assistant coaches had the Tigers going full bore on Wednesday morning. The roughly 50 or so kids were broken up into groups of six and ran through eight drills stations that included leaping under and over hurdles, flipping semi-truck tires and obliterating more tires with sledgehammers.
It’s all in preparation for what Thibault and his players hope will be a “regular” year of football after the 2021 season that featured masks, limited fan attendance and a five-month postponement of the season until February.
“It’s long overdue,” Thibault said. “It’s not February, so it’s nice, and it’s not freezing cold. That whole debacle sucked. It was just a headache. All the kids have been waiting, just trying to get back to normal. Hopefully school is relatively normal this year and we can go about business as normal.”
Now, with some normalcy on the horizon, the Tigers are tasked with replacing 14 seniors from last year, many of whom were starters. They return just two starters on each side of the ball.
Numbers were down to just 35 varsity players last season due to COVID and kids dropping out and electing to find jobs instead.
“It’s a big gap,” Thibault said. “Our juniors, the last time they really played was as freshmen because they didn’t really have a season.”
It’s still too early to tell who all will step up into that leadership role this year, but Thibault sees a trio of juniors moving toward it: running back Michael Hoyt and linemen Willie Stinkeoway and Gabe Seymour.
Stinkeoway, who did not puke during Wednesday’s practice, said he’s been waiting for this day the past five months.
“First practice is always the toughest because not many people have done football or they just came back to it after a few years,” Stinkeoway said. “And COVID hit us hard. I think, this year, we’re going to be ready, it’s going to be fun, we’re gonna work hard and have a good time.”
The reigning 2B Washington football champs are done talking about the 2019, or even the 2020 football season.
Five months following the abbreviated 2020 spring football season, the Onalaska High School football team has opened fall practice looking to move forward.
“It’s time to turn the chapter,” head coach Mazen Saade said. “Everyone wants to talk about the state championship, 2019, all that stuff. And that’s great, it’s cool we were the team that won the last state championship in a normal season. But for these guys, they’re ready to turn the page and write their page as a team.”
The Loggers have plenty of returning talent, even from that state championship team two years ago, returning 15 seniors and a strong core in trio Kolby Mozingo, Gunnar Talley, and Marshall Haight.
The upperclassmen have already taken the freshmen and new players under their wing, even after a single day of practice underway in August. Playing for more than just bragging rights, and in the fall instead of February, has helped the team too.
“It’s just way better with the stakes,” Haight said. “Last year really didn’t really feel like football until like Week 4. This year it’s already started.”
But it’s back to being an exciting time of year in Lewis County. For the first time in two years, coaches and players alike said that this upcoming football season feels almost completely normal. About 40 kids lined the practice field at Onalaska, ready to come out swinging in Week 1 against Oroville.
With aspirations of another league title and looking to defend its state championship, the Loggers will look to run through the gauntlet of 2B Central and see how far they can make it once again in 2021.
“We gotta work hard and see where we shake at the end of it,” Saade said. “We’re unproven.”