This spring a new sight was spotted around campus, the athletic fields around the school active as fall sports were allowed to practice out-of-season for the first time.
A recent Midwest Conference vote allows for all fall sports to practice for 20 hours spread out over four weeks, calling it a non-traditional season. The teams can practice for up to two hours a day, up to three days a week. The sports affected include both men’s and women’s soccer, football, volleyball, and cross country. Head football coach and athletic director Chad Eisele is excited for the jump on the season this allows him.
“The great thing about trimesters is that the schools we play, most of those kids are home while we’re practicing,” he said.
The Prairie Fire football team is installing a new spread-style offense called the pistol that orients the running back behind the QB in a shotgun formation, as well as a new defense, going from a college 4-3 to a 3-4. Big changes on both sides of the ball are always cause for a lot of work ahead, and Eisele mentioned what a help this would be.
“It’s going to allow us to, when we come in [in the fall] our starters will know formations, we won’t have to explain it to them,” he said. “The upper classmen can show the way how to do things.”
One would think that only 20 hours a month is not much to make a dent in the formation of a team and the improvement of play, but as they say, every little bit helps. Being able to go over new playbooks or formations is integral to the betterment of a football, or indeed, any team. Repetition is the only way to learn most sports, and that is what Eisele wants.
“We’re doing non-contact stuff, 7-on-7 pass, making sure guys are making the right calls, understanding blitzes and stunts [on defense],” he said.
Collegiate sports, obviously, need collegiate athletes. A big new change like this in the conference can shake up anybody’s schedule. Even so, students like Marcos Moreno, a sophomore soccer player, see it as a good thing.
“It reminds me of being back in high school,” Moreno said of the practices. “I’m picking up on old habits. Repetition is good.”
One bonus to practicing out of season is the extra time older players have to learn over new recruits. With positional battles on every team a typical thing at Knox, it allows for players already established to make an impression, whether good or bad, on their coaches.
“We’re playing for our positions,” Moreno said. “18 deposits are in (from soccer recruits), plus the 14 players already, so there’s going to be some cuts.”
Athletes play for the competition though, whether it’s against another team or for their own playing time. Twenty hours over the spring months is a great way to get touches in competition, be it the intrasquad scrimmages the soccer teams do, or when the men and women play each other.
“It improves [the soccer teams] a lot,” Moreno said, “keeping the team together before summer.”
Though time in the weight room is a voluntary time for players, this extra time in a team atmosphere, particularly in games like football and soccer, allows for a tighter unit. Cross country has a leg-up because many of those athletes are on the track and field team. Though it could have an impact on the academics or social life of his players, Eisele, for one, sees no problem with the practices, seeing it as a pure bonus.
“I don’t think 20 hours over four weeks will change anybody’s academic or social calendar. Our teams are playing all year anyway, informally with each other,” he said. “This just gives us a chance to meet with them a couple times, and understand where we are mentally.”
Yogi Berra said something like that about baseball once, maybe there is some truth to it.