Drills, drills and, yes, more drills as Falcons practice

Falcon football players Danen Hagglund and Jordan Dibble demonstrate their jumping techniques as part of a series of drills on the first day of practice Wednesday. - Jeff VanDerford
Falcon football players Danen Hagglund and Jordan Dibble demonstrate their jumping techniques as part of a series of drills on the first day of practice Wednesday.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford

No question, it’s a stirring sight when coaches and players of the South Whidbey High School football team march onto Waterman Field for a home game.

But before the glory, the excitement and the adoration of fans, there are the drills.

On the first day of practice Wednesday — with the temperature edging close to 90 degrees — there was little glory, but a lot of sweat as coaches put their charges through the proverbial wringer.

“We had about 60 kids show up this morning, including a lot of skilled players from last year,” said Falcon coach Mark Hodson. “We’re running concentrated clinics to get them up to speed quickly.”

Actually, Hodson’s technical title is co-coach. Though he has taught history as well as coached for eight years, he wasn’t sure if he would be on campus full-time because of seniority problems. So it was decided that Andy Davis would step in and split coaching duties — Hodson for the defense, Davis on offense. But Monday, Hodson learned he would be teaching on-site this year.

“Nothing will actually change from the last couple of years,” Hodson noted.

Asked which would be speaking on the record about the team’s progress this year, they pointed to each other with grins.

“Talk to him,” they said in unison.

They will be assisted in their efforts by offensive line coach Greg Bennett, defensive back coach Leo Langer, defensive line coach Don Elliott and running back coach Jim Thompson.

The last couple of seasons have been good ones for Falcon football. With seven wins and three losses in 2008, South Whidbey was competitive in every game.

At least when healthy. Quarterback Hunter Rawls and running back Henry Mead were injured and missed the final three games, of which the only win was a defensive 6-2 victory over Coupeville.

Both will be back, as will standout players Danny Zuver, Joe Kinser, Dillon Parrick, TJ Russell and Jon Poolman.

Kinser said that last year’s strong junior class means 2009 will be a good season. “All the hard work throughout the year made the difference,” he said.

But first, time for more drills.

“Lucy, green, seven!” Davis shouted, signaling Russell, Rawls and Mead to run a semi-complicated play designed to get the fullback through the opposing line and pick up yardage.

Despite football summer camp at Central Washington University, the guys are a bit rusty.

“That’s OK, it’s the first day; they’ll improve,” Davis noted.

In June, 38 Falcons trekked to Eastern Washington to join 16 other schools for controlled scrimmages and individual instruction from the varsity coaching staff.

“It was a good experience for the guys and for us,” Hodson said.

One major concern for Hodson and Davis is the offensive line.

“We lost everyone but Joe (Kinser) to graduation,” Hodson said.

Real fans know it’s the line that can make a real difference in games.

Last year, the Falcon offense rushed the ball 1,760 yards and passed for 1,276 more, a decidedly more balanced attack than the Falcons have fielded in the past.

“When we were totally healthy, we played as well as any team in the state,” Hodson said.

“Even in the games we lost, the guys played hard to the last second of the last quarter, and any team taking us for granted did so at their peril.”

As the late-afternoon heat warmed the field, players were cycled through a series of short but intense agility drills designed to get them jumping, swerving, tackling and running.

Nearby was stationed a trailer with plenty of water, because on days like this, coaches need to be wary of heat-stroke symptoms.

Athletic trainer Jim Christensen warned that staying well-hydrated is the key.

“Coaches are watching for loss of balance, confusion and anyone who stops perspiring,” he said.

“If you respect the heat and drink lots of fluids, everything will be fine. The coaches know how to deal with that.”

There have been good games and bad for South Whidbey in seasons past.

But before them all, there were the drills — tough young men getting harder by the minute on hot August afternoons.

South Whidbey’s first game will be Friday, Sept. 4 at Grandview.

The initial home game is 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25 when the Falcons host Cedarcrest.

On Monday, Aug. 24, practice begins for boys tennis, girls soccer, volleyball and cross country.

School begins on Sept. 8.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or

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