After a grueling conditioning test on Sunday evening, Heber Springs officially opened fall camp with 40 players Monday afternoon on the shiny new field turf at Panther Stadium. The Panthers held an hour-long team meeting at 4 p.m. followed by two practices with an hour break in between.
“It was a tough 24 hours for them because Sunday night we had a conditioning test that the team had to go through,” said Panther Coach Steve Janski, who holds a record of 61-33 entering his ninth season with the program.
“The small skills … Wide receivers and defensive backs ran 60 sprints broken into four quarters and our O-line and D-line did stations of sleds, tire pulls and tire flips so there was about 40 minutes of nothing but conditioning Sunday night and then they turn around and have two practices Monday night on the most humid day we've had yet. It seems like the heat wave moved in just in time for football.”
Heber is emphasizing a fast tempo, which was evident from watching the spring game and Monday's practice as the Panthers utilized a rapid-fire, no-huddle offense. “Our biggest weapon this year is our knowledge,” Janski shouted as his troops hustled to the ball for a new play.
On Tuesday morning, Janski addressed the fast tempo. “Our tempo is not there yet. We are going to try and go as fast as we can. I think that is going to be hopefully an advantage for us offensively. Our tempo was a little sluggish but I think that is because we are installing quite a bit. In the next two weeks we are installing our complete offense and defense, but the effort and enthusiasm was definitely there.”
Janski said he and his staff decided to practice late rather than early in the morning to help give the players a chance to drink plenty of water after rigorous practice sessions. Plus, with all the games scheduled in the evening, it made sense to pull the trigger on moving them back.
“We really started thinking about it and all the games are at night. We've always talked about moving our practices to the night. We did it for two reasons. One, the kids are continuing to not hydrate like we want them to and that makes it a little bit difficult to practice in the morning.
“When we get done at 9:30 or 9:45 [at night] they are going to go to bed because they are exhausted and they get to sleep in and they have all day to hydrate up. So instead of waking up early and they might not eat much and then they have to go through a four or five hour practice depending on the day, now they have all day to hydrate, eat and carb up, then hopefully perform at a better level and stay safe,” added Janski.
Page 2 of 2 - The Panthers, who return nine starters from a team that finished 7-5 while advancing to the quarterfinals of the 4A state playoffs, have 25 team goals the staff has mapped out entering fall camp.
“We sat down as a staff and ended up coming out with 25 camp goals and they range from finding certain roles with certain individuals on the team to a complete install of our offense, defense and special teams … To making sure we get exactly what we want out of our August camp. We have been very specific with our camp goals. I've got a list of 25 and I think we will accomplish most of them if not all of them because this senior group has some great leadership,” Janski stressed.
Several players have stepped up as team leaders, starting with senior offensive lineman Jason Hammons (6-0, 245). “Jason Hammons is at the top of my list being a very solid, quiet leader. And what I mean by quiet is he is not just ra-ra but he goes to work, gets it done and keeps pushing. Nate Hills (lineman), Michael Kramer (quarterback), Cooper Lawrence (wide receiver/defensive back), Ian Lowe (linebacker/wide receiver) … And some of our juniors Chandler Marquardt (running back/linebacker) only knows one gear, Chandler Jones (slot back/running back) has really elevated his game and Zach McCormick, our center, I really love his attitude. I am telling you this is a great group of kids as far as having a workman's mentality. They put the hard hat on and go to work. They are not going to complain about it. They are not going to joke around about it, so it's been a lot of fun.”
Abiding by the AAA mandated rules, the Panthers will continue in helmets only until Thursday, when they will don pads for the first time. Heber will at least go with shoulder pads on Thursday, but may wait until Friday to compete with full pads.
“Thursday we will probably go with just uppers and Friday we will go full,” said Janski. “It just depends on the heat. It seems like the heat wave is going to be here this week so we are going to have to be smart about it.”
After scrimmaging Greenbrier on Monday, Aug. 26 at Panther Stadium, Heber opens the regular season at Pottsville on Friday, Sept. 6.