Columbine Courier sports editor Michael Hicks and photo editor Matthew Jonas are following head coach Andy Lowry’s Columbine Rebels from the start of practice throughout the 2011 season, a year after a 9-2 season and a disappointing second-round playoff loss. We will follow the Rebels throughout the season and the work that goes into it. First in a series.
It’s 7:58 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 15. Player after player, with their helmets on, start the long jaunt from one end of Columbine’s practice field to the other, while the grass is being cut on a field — a soccer field — just below. Football season is here.
“It’s time to get serious about what you’re here for,” Columbine assistant coach Ivory Moore said, just before reminding those players who may have some doubts that they can take their helmets off and walk toward the right sideline. “ ... It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood.”
The team, which won eight straight games to open the 2010 season and went 9-2 overall, was now embarking on the start of a 2011 campaign that will take it to Orlando, Fla., next week for a game with Timber Creek (Fla.) before returning to Colorado to open the regular season on Sept. 2 at Thomas Jefferson.
If Moore’s poignant words weren’t enough, Rebels head coach Andy Lowry was more direct.
“If you have not had your physical right now take off your helmet and walk over there,” Lowry said, motioning tward the sideline.
Very few, if any, had to. But there were a few absent players. The rest, now with their helmets off per coach’s orders, start the pre-practice stretching routine that has become commonplace in everyday athletics. One player who wasn’t participating was Asa Panchal. His paperwork hadn’t been confirmed by the coaching staff.
“You’ve got me doing your dirty work for you,” assistant coach Scott Thomas said to Panchal, who made good use of his time on the sideline by stretching out, like his teammates were doing on the field.
Two minutes later, after Thomas spoke with school athletic secretary Beth Sadusky, confirming Panchal’s status, he was back on the field with his teammates.
But for one player, however, Tyler Moore, it would be a little bit longer before he would be going through quarterback repetitions. That’s because Lowry was carefully taping up Moore’s left hand, specifically wrapping around his thumb, protecting the right-hander’s injured non-throwing hand. The athletic tape seemed to be of little bother once he started slinging passes.
Just getting on the field, though, is just the first step. It’s the little things that go into building a foundation that makes a team successful. Thomas knows that. The assistant coach, working with offensive linemen on their blocking techniques, saw first-hand the little nuances that make a solid team a contender.
“If you finish this right what should happen with his own shirt?,” Thomas asked his players. “You should almost choke him with his own shirt.”
Then it was back to coaching for Thomas.
“Head down, right foot forward. Finish the block, finish the block. Bring your belly button up to his,” he challenged his players.
Sometimes it worked, others it didn’t. That’s when Thomas questioned his own teaching technique as he tried to get through to the Rebels.
“That’s all right we’ll figure it out one day. We’ve got helmets on and we’re not brain dead,” he said. “Do the small things right. The small things are what count.”
It just might be the small things that determine who starts at quarterback for Columbine. There’s Mike Burns and there’s Justin Brown. Both, along with three other signal-callers, including Moore, worked on their handoffs, their footwork, their passes, all in the practice’s first 90 minutes.
“Pay attentions to details. ... It’s the reasons you’re taking those steps,” Lowry said. “Everything has got to be the same on handoffs.”
It’s that consistency Coach Lowry hopes to find in Columbine’s predominant run-oriented offense from either Burns or Brown or both as he looks for a replacement for last year’s starter Aaron Torres.
Last year, usually those handoffs were going to all-state selection Cameron McDondle. But last year’s leading rusher, with 1,583 yards and 25 touchdowns in just nine games, was nowhere to be found early in the practice. It wasn’t until more than 75 minutes had passed that McDondle showed up with his yellow physical card in hand.
“This should’ve been done last week, correct?,” Lowry asked. “You don’t get second chances. Now you’ve got 200 yards to run.”
McDondle, like all the other Rebels, knows there’s a price for their tardiness. But this was just Day 1. Two minutes later, at the end of a rushing drill, Lowry called for his star tailback to jump in to get a quick rep. He obliged willingly.