BY PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
The Rams football squad took to the practice field for the first time Wednesday.
Mt. Vernon, like teams across Illinois, has been working throughout the summer preparing for the upcoming season, but Wednesday marked the first official practice day for teams in Illinois. Coach Jared Shaner said about 100 athletes attended the practices in the morning and afternoon.
“We have a couple classes in a row that have gotten excited about football, and we've talked about our sophomore group before,” Shaner said. “Our junior and seniors who played (junior varsity) last year had some success.”
Each year under Shaner the numbers for the football team have increased. His first year, the total was in the low 80s. A season ago the Rams were around 90 as a group before nudging near triple digits to start this season.
“I can remember my first year we had seven seniors,” Shaner said. “One was a manager, one came out for football the first time. So we had five kids that had played football before that were in the senior class.
“This year we have 16 seniors. I think anytime you have strong numbers throughout your program and especially in the upper grades that's a good thing.”
Due to IHSA rules, the Rams are limited in what they can do in the opening few days of practice. On Wednesday, Mt. Vernon could only run through its practice with helmets only and no pads. The practice consisted of drills mixed with numerous teaching points from Shaner and his assistant coaches.
“Essentially defense becomes a little bit of technique stuff and talking,” Shaner said. “That part almost feels like a little step back.”
Despite not being able to conduct a full scrimmage, Shaner said he was happy with the attentiveness and effort from the group.
“We don't have kids that don't give great effort,” Shaner said. And we've been preaching that all summer, and they showed that today.”
The Rams will be back in helmets only for today's practice before three days with helmets and shoulder pads. It won't be until Tuesday before Mt. Vernon suits up in full pads. Shaner said that day the team will conduct a scrimmage.
Warm weather might not play much of a factor in the Rams preseason. Temperatures hovered around 70 degrees throughout the day in Mt. Vernon.
“It would be a little bit of shock to get up into the mid to high 90s or 100s and try to play games like that,” Shaner said.
The Rams will focus on preparing for opening night Friday, Aug. 30 at Rochester over the next few weeks.
“We definitely talk about them,” Shaner said. “We took probably 10 minutes of our two and a half hour practice to talk about some formations, talk about some things that they did last year.”
The next big event on the Rams schedule is their annual Meet the Rams night. It will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 23 at J.D. Shields Memorial Stadium.
“We just put some sod on the middle of our field, and we're going to attempt to stay off of it as long as possible so that might play into what we do as well,” Shaner said.