Jul. 24—The high school football season will start earlier than it ever has before, and area coaches are already in hurry-up mode to prepare their teams for the Aug. 20 kickoff.
Much like a two-minute offense, coaches in northwest Ohio are hoping to install systems in warp speed.
"By starting a week earlier, it definitely creates a sense of urgency," Clay coach John Galyas said. "It also makes the work we have done this summer even more critical to being ready for the start of the season."
All teams in the state will play their first game the week of Aug. 15 with most kicking off on Friday, Aug. 20. Last fall, the first games were played on Aug. 28, and in 2019 the first game took place on Aug. 30.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association moved up the regular season by a week to accommodate an expanded playoff format.
The change was initially made in May 2020 when the OHSAA announced it would expand the football playoffs from eight to 12 teams per region in 2021, giving a first-round bye to the top four seeds. Then in April, the OHSAA board of directors voted to further expand the playoffs to 16 schools per region with no first-round byes.
First-year Perrysburg coach Dirk Conner said his staff has more to install over the summer.
"We really have to drive home getting in some scheme, especially with a new coaching staff," Conner said. "We have had to cut out some scheme installation that we would normally install in August. I just don't think we will be as prepared from a scheme or situation perspective."
St. John's Jesuit coach Larry McDaniel said his staff also has had to adjust the installation of its offense and defenses. The Titans also are doing two "helmet days" in July.
"We have to speed up the learning process for the kids," McDaniel said. "We are installing pieces of the offense and defense in the summer that we would have normally waited until fall camp to install. I am cautiously optimistic that it won't affect us. The one plus is that everyone else has to operate under the same parameters, so no one will have an unfair advantage."
Rossford coach Todd Drusback said the early kickoff date shortens the evaluation process.
"Football is the only sport where you are not in full equipment in June and July, so unfortunately you truly cannot evaluate until you can actually get full pads on and hit. That doesn't happen until Aug. 4," he said. "The challenge is to get the best 11 on the field regardless of position. So how long do you keep kids at certain positions before you possibly switch them? If you think they are not in your top 11, then you need enough time for that kid to learn his new position."
Northview coach Doug Downing said the shortened time frame places an emphasis on teaching.
"It creates less learning time, which will decrease quality of play," Downing said.
In all sports, the OHSAA now allows coaches to have an unlimited number of days from June 1 through July 31 to conduct voluntary conditioning, strength training, and instruction. In football, helmets may be worn during summer voluntary sessions.
Like many programs, Otsego coach Matt Dzierwa said he is using the July "acclimation period" to help his team prepare for the early start.
"We have spread out the 7-on-7 days throughout the summer," Dzierwa said. "I hope that it doesn't have a negative effect, especially with our unknowns. But with scrimmages and the first game coming so soon this year, we will have to be ready."
For football, there is a mandatory five-day acclimatization period for all student-athletes prior to contact practices. The OHSAA is allowing schools to use two of the required five acclimatization days in July in advance of official practice beginning on Sunday, Aug. 1.
Drusback said his team will be using those two acclimation days this month. The Bulldogs also held a 7-on-7 session in June, one last Monday, and a final one on Monday.
Anthony Wayne coach Andy Brungard said the Generals will have their acclimation days with helmets on finished before Aug. 1.
He and his staff have been working with the offensive line and skill players since June.
"In July, we've focused on more 7-on-7 and competing with other area teams. We're fortunate to have well-coached, competitive teams in our area that we can work with," Brungard said.
The season's starting week was moved to ensure that the state championship games will still be contested during the first weekend in December.
Two scrimmages will be permitted between Aug. 6 and 14.
Maumee coach Cam Coutcher said the accelerated schedule makes it imperative to avoid injuries.
"Keeping our guys healthy with the quick turnaround between scrimmages will be a major focus of ours," Coutcher said. "We aren't really focused on things we can't control, so because of that, we are focused on getting our players ready."
At Rogers, coach Jason Besgrove said the early start has not affected his team at all.
"We have been practicing, so we will have our required days done by the end of July," Besgrove said. "We have had two 7-on-7 tournaments. In the summer, we try to get back to basics and really work on techniques and also start the installation of our offense and defense. I don't think the shorter two-a-days will hurt us too much, because we have put in a lot of work over the summer."
The regular season will begin with three weeks of non-league games for most teams. League play begins on Sept. 10. The regular season concludes on Oct. 23, followed by six weeks of playoffs instead of five weeks.
The playoff expansion will increase the number of football playoff qualifiers from 224 to 448.
Conner, the former Bowling Green coach who takes over at Perrysburg, is not in favor of the expansion.
"I have been and continue to be completely against this change and the reason behind it," Conner said. "Teams just aren't going to be prepared for Week 1."
But all the coaches said there is an increased level of excitement after the complications caused by the coronavirus.
They are eager to get back to more familiar atmospheres under the Friday night lights.
"After everything that we went through last year, it is really exciting knowing that we are going to have a normal season," Galyas said.
First Published July 24, 2021, 11:00am