Bound by a Southwest Junior College Football Conference rule and an anticipation of fewer walk-ons, Northeastern A&M Golden Norse head coach Rob Green awaits Tuesday's first day with trepidation.
“We can't report until 18 days before our Aug. 30 opening game at Hutchinson, Kan.,” Green said. “That's a hard fast rule set by our conference.
“Conversely, the Kansas Jayhawk Conference teams can report 21 days before the opener,” Green said. “So Hutchinson was on the practice field Saturday morning.”
“It was the coolest first day of practice I've ever been a part of,” second year Hutchinson head coach Rion Rhodes said. “But, it was a great deal for us and I'm sure our training staff was happy that it was cool because it eliminates a lot of problems for them.”
With 11 starters back from last year's 2-7 team, Rhodes and his coaching staff have less than three weeks to whittle down their roster to 55 players.
While the Blue Dragons worked out Saturday, Sunday and today in shorts and shoulder pads, the Golden Norsemen will not be on campus until 2 p.m. Tuesday.
“All we can do according to the rules the first day is to take care of administrative work with the players,” Green said. “We'll check them into the dorm, make sure they are enrolled in classes and have their financial aid paperwork in order.
“Then, at 3:30 p.m. we'll check out equipment until supper,” Green said. “After a meal in the college cafeteria and singing the school fight song, we'll go down to the football fieldhouse and have a team meeting and orientation starting at 6:30 p.m.”
Long gone are the days when more than 150 sophomores, freshmen and walk-ons would report and undergo rigorous conditioning drills and time trials the first day.
“Bottom line for us as coaches is that we communicated to our kids over the summer what kind of workouts they should be doing,” Green said. “So that when they check in, we expect them to be in playing shape because there isn't any time to spend on time trials or conditioning.”
Starting Wednesday, the Golden Norsemen can hold only one practice session for each of the first three days, according to National Junior College Athletic Association rules.
Each of these practice sessions must be in shorts and shoulder pads only.
“We'll start our workouts at 9 a.m. each morning on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” Green said. “After lunch, we'll break down into offense, speciality teams and defense and each of those groups will have meetings starting at 2 p.m.
“Following dinner each evening, we'll have a team walk-through starting at 6:30 p.m. to familiarize the players with various formations,” Green said. “Then, we'll hold a team meeting at 10 p.m.
“The first three days, the three things we really stress as a coaching staff are installation, conditioning and evaluation,” Green said. “We know what our sophomores are going to give us, but we're constantly evaluating our young players to see where they are at both physically and mentally.”
Here again, long gone are three-a-day practice sessions. The Golden Norsemen start college classes on Monday, Aug. 18.
“With classes starting so early, we'll only get two practices in on Saturday and one Sunday,” Green said. “Then, we'll practice in the afternoons once school start and have ‘happy hour' in the evenings.”
Another deviation from years past in the Golden Norse program is a lack of numbers of walk-on players. For more than 30 years the Norsemen welcomed as many as 70 to 90 walk-ons for evaluation.
“While our coaching staff has been going over the players we expect to show up Tuesday, we came to a very startling conclusion ‘we're not going to have very many walk-ons,'” Green said. “The realization is that most of our walk-ons have been local kids.
“We've had a few kids that have called us, but because we require them to be enrolled in school, that they have a physical and that they have proof of insurance,” Green said. “I think those three stipulations scare a lot of them away.
“My first year, we started off with about 135 kids and last year we had 126 and it looks like we'll have less than that this time,” Green said. “I think it's just like a lot of things that go through an ebb-and-flow situation.”