Falcon football team struggles, unites at beach days

DOUBLE BLUFF — For the 40 Falcon football players, three days of practice at Double Bluff are far from a day at the beach.

DOUBLE BLUFF — For the 40 Falcon football players, three days of practice at Double Bluff are far from a day at the beach.

Despite the 70-degree temperatures in the morning, the sand, the sun and the surf, the two-hour workouts are arduous, even tedious at times.

Sand is an insidious surface to condition on. The grains when dry are loose and give out from under the players’ feet as they run. On the wet sand, it has a bit of subduction to it, sticking to the feet and pulling the soon-to-be fully padded linemen, linebackers, running backs, quarterbacks and receivers. Combined with the heat (and a lazy summer for some of the athletes), and the practices are exhausting.

That’s no excuse to grab an early drink of water or not pay attention to longtime co-head coaches Mark Hodson and Andy Davis.

“Quit acting tired,” Davis said to players as they hunched over, hands on their knees and sucking in air.

“I don’t care if you think you’re tired yet because we’re just getting started,” Hodson told the team during the first day of beach practices. “What we’re doing here is getting you to grow up to be men.”

Nonetheless, beach days are a tradition for South Whidbey High School’s football program, enough to bring out a few spectators and the principal. There are purposes beyond conditioning, though in the injury-prone sport of football fitness is crucial, that make a few days at the beach worthwhile. The most important aspect is uniting 40 or more individual athletes into one team.

“There’s no reason to be disappointed for something you have not prepared for,” Hodson told the players during a break.

South Whidbey High School began its two-a-day practices Aug. 15. Football begins its season earlier than other fall sports, which is allowed by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association — the state’s ruling athletics organization. About 40 players showed up for the first practice of beach days, which is about 10 fewer than last year. The Falcon football team will usher in a new era for the high school as it begins life as a 1A program. Sports classifications are determined every two years by student enrollment. The number of students enrolled has dropped for the past decade across the South Whidbey School District. South Whidbey High School has an enrollment of 469 students, as listed by the WIAA, which makes it the sixth-largest 1A school. The math is not parallel for football’s numbers, however, and doesn’t mean South Whidbey has the sixth-largest football team.

“This is one of the smallest squads we’ve had in a long time,” Hodson said. “It’s a team sport. We have to build the concept of ‘team.’”

Like any of the “Rocky” films, the first beach day was full of running on the sand and feats of strength. Players warmed up with knee touches, walking about 20 yards while bending down to one knee, bringing their opposite elbow down to the sand then back up.

Then they sprinted.

And they sprinted again.

And they sprinted some more.

Sand sprints were brutal, especially the relays.

Those relays were made more difficult during ferry rope runs, where players dragged the 15-foot line behind them. And those races were made even more challenging with the 170-pound log runs.

As players ran from cone to cone, trying to be the first team to finish for points the coaches’ tracked during practice, the sand went from its picturesque tide lines into a mess. On the turns at the cone, players’ feet slipped out from under them, sending the Falcons diving into the sand. There was no laughter from the players, only encouragement to keep running, to push themselves faster to the finish.

Those lessons will be needed during the season as South Whidbey finds its way through a new era of 1A football.

And that era began with a few days at the beach.