In a few weeks it will all start for real for the Rhinelander High School football team and new head coach Aaron Kraemer.
This week has been the team's final dress rehearsal.
The Hodags will conclude their four-day team camp this afternoon. Throughout the week, fundamentals have been the No. 1 priority for the voluntary practice sessions. According to Kraemer, this week's work is helping to set the foundation for when practice starts Aug. 6.
"What we're going to focus on over the next couple of weeks are the fundamentals of our offense and defense, making sure that we have an offensive and defensive line that's prepared to play," Kraemer said following the end of last week's 7-on-7 sessions.
Kraemer, who served as an assistant on the RHS staff for five years under coach Chris Ferge before being promoted to the head position this spring, estimated numbers to be in the low 40s for the camp, which represents an uptick from years past.
"It was a good turnout for a summer camp," he said. "You look around and you see all the excited faces, it's really good to be back on the football field competing with each other."
While numbers are up, Kraemer said he wants more. His goal is to reach what he called a "dirty 30" - 30 upperclassmen to make up the core of the varsity squad's offense, defense and special teams. Recruiting RHS students not already on the team is an ongoing process.
"Recruiting never stops," Kraemer. "I'd like to thank the seniors for doing the recruiting on the front end. They've been calling houses, talking to parents, talking to players and trying to get as many coaches out. Our coaches are going to try to do the same thing coming up in the next couple weeks."
Some other notes from this week's team camp:
The upper hand
Kraemer wants the upperclassmen to lead the program not just in numbers and ability, but in intangible ways as well.
That means leading by example and trying to reboot the culture of a team that's a quarter century removed from its last winning season.
"One thing I was encouraged by was our senior leadership in drills, trying to coach while they are being coached and demanding the little things - the tempo, hard work, hustling from drill to drill," Kraemer said following Monday's practice. "Those are things our seniors have to do and demand from the rest of our team. That sets the team culture.
"The seniors looked really good and the juniors looked really good in the team drills yesterday - both offensively and defensively. You're always going to have training wheels on with the young group, trying to get them to learn the offense and defense and the speed of practice."
Short and sweet
Sessions during camp have moved quickly.
For instance, a roughly one-hour stretch of practice Monday began indoors with a defensive chalk talk, then moved outside for individual offensive position work, then to a team blocking drill before ending with a team offensive session.
Kraemer said he's using shorter practice segments to keep the workouts fresh, the players energized and maximize the effectiveness of practice time.
"We live in a day and age of social media and cellphones and it's hard to get kids to focus for three hours," he said. "If you have a regular three-hour practice and we're out there the entire three hours practicing, you might get an hour, hour and a half of good, focused work. What I told our seniors and I told our coaches is I want to prioritize the classroom and make sure kids understand the concepts before they go onto the field, prioritize watching film and make sure they know how to fix their mistakes. Then, when we're out on the field, we're out on the field for 1 1/2-to-2 hours of focused practice time."
Beat the heat
A brief respite inside the newly constructed team room to talk Xs and Os was one way to beat the heat Monday, with the temperatures in the upper 80s and high humidity. A late afternoon downpour also cooled the players off a bit.
Warm temperatures and high humidity have been in the forecast all week, so Kraemer said being cognizant of the weather has been important.
"Even in the middle school camp, you could see about halfway through kids were starting to tire out. It's hot. We're going to take some extended breaks and make sure the kids get enough water," he said.
Time for celebration
Camp ends tonight with what the team is calling a summer celebration cookout.
In addition to acknowledging the week of work during camp, it will also be one more opportunity for Kraemer to interact with players and their parents ahead of the start of the fall season.
"I'm going to have a meeting with our parents at 5:30 as our kids are finishing up their defensive session just to kind of get ready for the season, hand out last-minute papers if they need them and talk to them a little bit about what they can expect from me and what I expect of them too," he said.
Equipment handout is set for Aug. 5, with practice the following day. The team's Green and White practice will take place Aug. 10.
The varsity season opener is Aug. 23 at Prescott.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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