It’s time to get to work

Tigers aim to build upon winning culture as football practice begins

News Photo by James Andersen Alcona players work on a handoff drill during the first day of football practice on Monday at Alcona High School. Monday marked the first day of football practice for high school teams across Michigan and the Tigers are hoping to build on the winning culture they're established in the last several seasons.

LINCOLN–The Alcona football team had one of its best seasons ever in 2017, winning a district title and advancing to regionals for the first time.

But the Tigers aren’t content to rest on their laurels. Big things are expected of Alcona’s program now and players and coaches know accomplishing their future goals will only come from continued hard work.

“We’ve got a culture here now and I expect big things from us. Our coaches, they don’t expecting nothing less from us. We won (pre) districts the last (two) years now and it’s expected,” Alcona senior Damion Stewart said. “If we’re going to do it on a consistent basis, we’ve got to keep (working) and getting better.”

Last year’s team left several important lessons, which the Tigers of 2018 will use as they focus on forging their own identity.

“We talked about that a little bit last night.,” Alcona coach Jason Somers said. “We don’t want to be the guys from the past, we want to create our own people, our own new things, but talk away that winning culture, take away those things they showed us how to do.”

Alcona hit the practice fields on Monday morning for the first day of practice will many of those lessons in mind: building team chemistry, working hard and fostering a winning culture.

Nearly three dozen players took part in the first practice and Somers and his staff kept things simple, focusing on the fundamentals before players are able to practice in pads later this week. Somers worked with Alcona’s linemen on some basic footwork techniques and assistants George Schrader and Terry Franklin worked with Alcona’s quarterbacks and running backs on a few plays.

While Monday marked the first day of practice for high school teams across Michigan, Somers uses the first few days of Alcona’s camp to observe the maturity of his players. He’s looking to see how freshman respond to their first taste of high school football, get a feel for players’ conditioning levels and to see how his seniors adjust to taking on new or bigger leadership roles.

“Just to see the kids come out (is exciting). We’ve got a pile of freshmen this year and they all came in pretty wide-eyed last night,” Somers said. “Just to see how they transform over the course of the season (I like seeing) new kids take leadership roles and finding themselves as people too.

Alcona’s coaches challenged their seniors right away, holding an interview session with each of them on Sunday at the start of a three-day team camp and asked them why they wanted to play football. Somers believes each of Alcona’s seniors will lead in their own way and help build solid team chemistry that comes with making it through grueling days of practice on hot summer days with teammates.

“That’s the most important thing for the first three days. I feel strongly that our camp where all the kids stay together for the first three nights is hugely, hugely important,” Somers said. “They get to know each other, have to trust each other. They eat, breathe, sleep right next to each other and it does a lot for team building.”

Alcona has made things look easy as of late, posting back-to-back nine wins seasons in 2016 and 2017, but Stewart said that kind of success doesn’t happen without strong chemistry.

“It’s crucial, especially on offense. We’ve got to rely on the guy next to us, got to have our back,” Stewart said. “If we’re coming down for a double team and we’ve got a linebacker coming, we’ve got to trust that that guy can handle him by himself and the other guy can go get the linebacker.”

After graduating 13 seniors, Somers will also use practices to see who steps up to fill some key positions, including the offensive line where Alcona graduated all five starters from last season.

“We’re going to be competitive. Here at Alcona we say everybody (in grades) 9-12 is varsity eligible. They come out and they’re competing for the top 16 spots,” Somers said.

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.