There was plenty of noise and action at Jim DuPage’s first practice as head coach at United Township. But DuPage wasn’t making much of it.
His players were.
All 48 of them. So were three Marines running them through a series of difficult, fast-paced drills.
Most of the Panther players comments were simple and as a group.
“Yes, sir,” they repeatedly replied whether they were given instructions on doing the two-player wheel-barrel carry, crawling on all fours through a tunnel of players and interlocking arms in groups of 12 while doing sit-ups.
Then there were sprints that were interrupted by lifting a car battery-size weight, only to be followed by sprinting 100 yards back to the group. And for the players who had trouble doing anything, several players came out to cheer them on to the finish.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body,” one Marine shouted.
Such was opening day of practice Monday at United Township under DuPage.
High schools in Illinois and Iowa had their first official practice sessions Monday. DuPage was one of three new Western Big Six coaches working with their players. Mike Morrissey, an assistant at Moline last year, had his first official practice with the Maroons while Ben Hammer did the same with his Rock Island Rocks.
“This is pretty hard,” said United Township senior quarterback Bobby Neal, who had no trouble sprinting halfway through the practice and flashing some speed while doing so. “Some people who weren’t here (this summer for workouts), you've got to harp on them to get up because they are not as in shape as others, but they’re still trying their hardest.
“But it’s pretty hard. It’s probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”
DuPage opted to let the three Marines, dressed in black T-shirts and green camouflage pants, run the practice when they approached him recently at the East Moline Police Department’s “Night Out Against Crime.” DuPage was there volunteering with his captains and most of his senior players.
His team had a good summer in terms of learning things so DuPage felt this was the right thing to do for his first practice.
“I just feel that the team-building aspect is one of the biggest keys to building a successful football program,” DuPage said. “And currently, this is the best way for me to think to try to get them to come together as a team, come together as a family.”
Neal believes it will help the team-building aspect.
“Because we are interlocking arms and we all have to stay together and work as one,” Neal said. “Everything we’ve done we have to do it together because if one person is down, like in that drill we couldn’t crawl through.
“We have to lift the other guy up and talk to him, not bring him down. You have to get him up.”
He believes Monday’s opening practice will have a positive effect on the season.
“It will help with everybody getting closer and bonding as a unit,” Neal said.
Well past the midway point of Moline’s practice, the Maroons were running their offense on a day when helmets but no pads were allowed.
Nerves weren’t a factor for any of the coaches, as they are allowed to do some work with players during the summer. So it was far from the first meeting of players and coaches.
“As far as the tempo of things, probably not where we wanted it to be,” Morrissey said afterward. “But I think we’re going to make some strides here tomorrow and get back on track.”
His team worked with the Marines during the summer.
“It was awesome,” he said. “There’s no better group to learn from than a United States military group.”
The Maroons have 51 varsity players.
“Our pace is pretty fast,” Morrissey said. “We try to fit a lot into a two-hour segment. It goes from a lot of individual time. Then we will jump into special teams and then we will jump into a situational period. It’s definitely a different way about it.”
Returning starting quarterback Eric Maffie gave his nod of approval to the first day.
“It’s awesome,” Maffie said. “He’s given us a great attitude. We are all really hyped every play. He’s making sure we are doing everything right.
“It was really fun. Everything was uptempo.”
Rock Island’s practice started on Almquist Field but eventually moved to the adjacent Rock Island grass practice field as the band had to get its practice in at the stadium, too.
Rock Island has about 50 players out for its varsity team.
Hammer said he saw a little of first-day jitters from his kids after a layoff of more than a week.
“We kind of had to shake a little rust loose ourselves, execution-wise on the field today,” he said.
Hammer has been at Rock Island since late March working as a substitute teacher after being selected to replace Bryan Stortz, who took a teaching/coaching job at Conant High School.
Hammer may have summed things up best about returning to the field Monday.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” he said. “Football is the greatest game. It’s a great way to teach the kids life, and it keeps you young being around the kids and running around and having a good time.
“You don’t do the Decembers through May for anything but the August through October,” he concluded. “The season is kind of everybody’s paycheck.”