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Aaron Wiley can remember when high school football teams would practice in the morning, return for an afternoon workout and then another practice at night.

“It seemed like you practiced for a whole year before you played a game,” Bettendorf’s head coach said. “It is almost the complete opposite now.”

With two- and three-a-day practices in the past because of safety measures, football coaches are on a crash course to get their teams prepared for the opening week.

As schools in Iowa and Illinois began practice Monday, game night is less than three weeks away for teams in both states.

“You have to be more efficient in the summer with your workouts,” Wiley said. “You install some stuff with your seven-on-seven, but you’ve got to use your time wisely. It is important to have a good practice plan and be efficient in what you’re doing.”

Bettendorf is at a much different starting point than it was last year and other teams are in the Quad-Cities.

The Bulldogs return a plethora of prominent players from last year’s 10-2 and Class 4A state semifinal squad, including quarterback Carter Bell, receiver Darien Porter, three offensive linemen, sophomore defensive tackle Griffin Liddle, defensive lineman Rocky Schoenfelder and linebacker Alex Blizzard.

“We’re definitely a team that is hungry, a team which wants to win plenty of games, wants to get back to the (UNI-) Dome and a team which wants to make it to Week 13 (state championship game),” Porter said. “This team wants to accomplish a lot.

“With how we’ve been working out and with our coaching staff, I think we can actually do it.”

Porter said Bettendorf has been motivated since it walked off the turf at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls last November following a 23-0 loss to Iowa City West in the semifinals.

Wiley has seen that confidence in the team’s offseason work.

Bell, last year’s Quad-City Times metro offensive player of the year, accumulated nearly 2,100 yards of offense and 31 touchdowns. Griffen Deere, Jax Dormire and Cole Buhman return on the offensive line.

Porter, an Iowa State football recruit, averaged more than 25 yards per reception despite battling a wrist injury for the majority of the season.

“We’re all buying into this whole making a run at the state title thing,” Porter said. “Everyone wants a piece of it so they’re pushing themselves to the max. You can see guys getting faster, stronger and bigger.”

After months of weight lifting, conditioning, 7-on-7 drills and individual camps, the Bulldogs are ready to assemble the pieces toward a championship run.

Bettendorf tallied more than 30 points on eight occasions last season.

“Any time you have kids back who have been through it, they’re going to bring a different level of confidence,” Wiley said. “We’ve had a great offseason, and they’ve really bought into what we’re doing and worked extremely hard.

“We talk a lot about getting a return on your investment. These kids have invested a lot into this. Now, it is about time to get a return on that.”

The first practice brings another level of excitement. Game day is just 17 days away against rival Pleasant Valley.

“We all start to have a much higher sense of urgency,” Deere said. “I think (Monday’s) practice will be a little more intense and exciting than camp last week. It is official now.”

Bettendorf has plenty of proven parts.

The next two weeks will be installing more of their offensive and defensive schemes along with evaluating players.

Wiley said three players are vying for the starting tailback spot — seniors Austin Kalar and Leo Desequeira along with junior AJ Douglas.

Bettendorf has to break in an entirely new secondary along with filling a couple spots on the offensive line.

“We’ve got some unknowns still,” Wiley said. “You really can’t pencil a guy in being great until you see him do it on a Friday night.”

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.