Physical play highlights opening of camps for H.S. football teams

Monday, August 12, 2019 | 9:27 PM

The sun hadn’t even risen above the horizon Monday morning, and Franklin Regional coach Greg Botta was enthusiastically putting his team through drills.

Botta was having fun interacting with his players as they prepared for the “Oklahoma drill.”

The first official day of football camp across the WPIAL and PIAA was underway, and Botta couldn’t be happier.

“We want to set the tone early,” Botta said. “We want to see who our players are this season. The players look forward to it. It gets my blood pumping.”

High school coaches do different things to get their players fired up for the season. It often involves contact.

Botta started the drill with senior linebackers Justin Johns and Brock O’Block tangling. O’Block pancaked Johns in the first meeting, but Johns reversed it on the next snap. It was game on as the players spent the next half hour running the drill and cheering on teammates.

Botta jumped around after each battle, not looking like a coach starting his 26th season.

“We want to let them know what it’s all about,” Botta said. “We’ve done this for years, before the sun rises. We want them to understand what this game is all about, being physical and hitting your opponent.”

Botta said he liked what he saw.

“I heard the echo,” Botta said. “I didn’t hear that mush. I was pleased with their technique.”

And while the “Oklahoma drill” won’t be used the rest of camp, Franklin Regional still will hit.

“We have to get them used to contact,” Botta said. “Their bodies have to get accustomed to the hitting. Your body will be sore for a couple days and then go away.”

Hitting also was the theme on Day 1 at Jeannette.

The Jayhawks didn’t take the field until 8 a.m. at McKee Stadium. While workers were busy putting new turf of the field, the Jayhawks were eagerly anticipating the “spirit drill.”

It is similar to the Oklahoma drill without a running back. Jeannette coach Roy Hall was excited about the first match of the drill between Justin Cramer and Zach Crutchman, two returning starting linemen.

“I make the matches, and they don’t know who they are getting until I announce it,” Hall said. “They look forward to it in camp. It gets them pumped up.”

Dave Keefer greeted 38 players at Greensburg Salem and opened the day at 8:30 a.m. with a goal-line package and the “seven shots” concept that the Steelers often use.

“We put the ball on the 5 and then the 3,” Keefer said. “We start in a scenario situation. It gets us going as an entire team or unit. We want to use something we can build upon.

“We get some hitting in a situational setting. We have to be better on defense. I like to start on the goal line because it establishes a demeanor and a mindset. … We also see how we pursue and get to the football.”

Hempfield coach Rich Bowen had his team off the field by 3 p.m.

He incorporates a “funnel drill,” which is similar to the “hoot-n-holler” he learned while playing at Youngstown State under coach Jim Tressel. It’s similar to the “Oklahoma drill” but has three groups and three players going at the same time.

“The players like the drill,” Bowen said. “They like hitting people.”

Greensburg Central Catholic first-year coach Brett Colbert is taking a different approach to physicality.

He didn’t begin practice until 4:20 p.m., and because the Centurions have only 32 players on the roster, he’s going to limit the hitting.

“We’re not big on full contact or running over each other,” Colbert said. “We’ll concentrate on teaching proper techniques.

“I was real excited to get started with the X’s and O’s. I knew what to expect as a head coach, just wasn’t sure about the timeline of getting other duties done.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at or via Twitter .

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