First day of football practice brings energy, hope for A-K Valley teams

Monday, August 14, 2017 | 10:51 PM

As Deer Lakes players sprinted to midfield Monday afternoon, the last warm-up drill before breaking into defensive work, coach Steve Sciullo broke away from a conversation and raced alongside them.

The Lancers' fourth-year coach wanted to see a similar intensity from his team in its defensive practice, Deer Lake's second fully padded workout of the day.

“We came out this morning, and I would have liked to have more energy,” said Sciullo, a former NFL offensive lineman. “If the kids don't bring it, sometimes coach has to bring the energy to get the guys motivated. I'm looking for that guy, though, because I'm getting a little bit older now.”

Monday marked the first official day of practice for fall sports teams across the WPIAL — cross country, field hockey, football, boys and girls golf, boys and girls soccer, girls tennis and girls volleyball. Even for teams that worked out in non-mandatory capacities over the summer, it brought a new level of energy with the season racing toward them in the coming weeks.

In football, two-a-days got underway early in the morning. Teams that spent most of their summers doing strength and conditioning workouts, or seven-on-sevens, could put their full pads on and hit for the first time since last season ended.

“Nothing like a good pair of shoulder pads and a helmet,” Highlands senior Tyler Sportelli said. “Your offseason, all you're thinking about is putting the pads on again. To finally get them on, that feeling, that first day, it's something else.”

“Camp's a lot more interesting,” Deer Lakes senior Josh Solomon said. “All of the guys are here. It's a lot more fun. You get to hit, you get to be a little more physical.”

Sportelli admitted to tossing and turning Sunday night, watching film and listening to music while he waited for daylight and the first early-morning practice of the season.

Valley junior David Schuffert's anticipation began months earlier, during wrestling season.

“I just love football,” he said. “I love being in football pads. Hitting, just killing people (is my favorite part), and running through plays. I love my offensive line, just being with them.”

As much as he anticipated the first day of camp, Schuffert said he's especially looking forward to the coming days when the action begins to pick up.

Monday also marked the first official day of camp for three new Alle-Kiski Valley coaches: Dom Girardi at Highlands, Sam Albert at Kiski Area and Seth Napierkowski at Springdale.

“We had an aggressive summer schedule, so we never really lost contact with the kids, which is good,” Girardi said. “But it's obviously always different the first day you put the pads on. There's a definite feel for it, a different energy level. I'm happy with the energy that we brought here this first practice and looking just to continue it, build from it.”

Highlands began its first two-a-day with defensive work, which brought the intensity from the beginning.

“We want them to bring the JUICE — that stands for jacked-up intensity, continuous energy. That's what we want. We talk about bringing the JUICE to everything you do. You have to (have) no let off. Keep your foot on the pedal.”

Burrell and Deer Lakes held offensive practices in the morning and defensive ones in the afternoon.

To a man, coaches said they looked mostly for energy on the first day of camp.

“This morning was great,” said Burrell coach Dave Bellinotti, who took his team to Cal (Pa.) for the opening week of camp. “It's one of the first practices I've ever been around that they ran the system very well, they had great energy, they tried hard and responded to everything. I think you're concerned about the second one on Day 1 because reality starts to set in that you're very sore and you were banging around this morning. We did a little bit of hitting this afternoon, and the good thing was they responded to it.”

The focus for teams now is continuing to respond and maintain their energy as the season swiftly approaches. The first scrimmages will take place Saturday, and teams can hold a second scrimmage or an actual game — dubbed “Week Zero” — on Aug. 25.

“We're just excited to get out there,” Sciullo said. “Our league (the Allegheny Conference) always feels wide open. At least to me it is. Every year it seems wide open, and one of these years, we want to take it.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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