The sound of football season was in the air Monday.
Pads were clashing. Whistles were tooting. And coaches were yelling instructions to their players.
Football is back around Lawrence County for the eight area schools.
However, numbers dipped a bit across the area to just 291 total players on the first day.
A total of 323 players participated on opening day last year. That number was down seven from the 330 that took part in the season-opening practice in 2017. In 2016, a total of 304 came out, with 336 in 2015 and 326 in 2014.
Players took the field in a mix of weather conditions from, sun to overcast to heat to a bit of rain.
Following is a closer look at each team’s camp activities from the first day:
Joe Cowart’s Red Hurricane squad suited up 56 players, which is down from last year’s total of 62.
“We think mid 50s to mid 60s is kind of our prime spot,” Cowart said. “That’s where we’ve been the last seven or eight years.
“We’re content with the guys we have and we’re excited to get to work.”
New Castle worked on defense and special teams in the first session and offense and special teams in the second session.
“I’m pretty happy with the first day,” Cowart said. We’re continuing to build on things and we’re looking to find guys in the right places.”
Cowart pointed to the likes of Demetris McKnight, Rocco Robinson, Bernie Fabian, Braeden Bailey and Richard Anderson among others as being key pieces to this year’s team.
“We have some pretty good football players. We’ll go as our senior class goes,” Cowart said. “We’ll lean on those guys as the season starts.”
First-year coach Joe Lamenza was greeted by just 30 players, down 14 from a year ago.
“I’d obviously like to have more, but from what I can tell, that’s right in the middle of the usual numbers in Double-A,” he said. “We have a small senior class, but my understanding is that there are ninth-graders who played a lot.
“We feel like we have a good group. There is quality in that number.”
The Wolverines are conducting two-a-days in full pads.
“We had good attendance in our summer programs, so we were able to hit the ground running,” said Lamenza, who previously coached at Mohawk and Blackhawk. “They were a little lethargic, but it was hot. We just need to continue to get better.”
Spartans coach Brian Cooper greeted 33 players on Day One, up one from a year ago.
“We had a good first day,” he said. “I thought the kids looked sharp. We have a lot of kids back from last year, so I’m anxious to get to the part to see how physical they can be.”
Cooper, in fact, returns nine players on offense and nine on defense from a team that potentially could have its best season in years.
“We’re way ahead of where we were last year,” he said. “Our expectations are high. But we know that we have to work and getting better physically up front. We have two 1,000-yard rushers (Daniel Blank and Luke McCoy). (Receiver) Will Shaffer and (lineman) Alex Stanton are both back after being injured last year.
“We got a couple of good additions in Landin Esposito and Parker Giddings,” he added. “They are bringing some good skill to the team.”
Coach Tim McCutcheon welcomed 39 players to his camp, up three from last year, for the two-a-day workouts.
“It was a great day,” McCutcheon said. “Our senior class only has six players, which we’ve seen coming for awhile. You like to have 10 players per grade, but this just means that we will be relying on younger kids. We have a couple of kids who have not played before, but most of them have seen playing time.
“We’ve been working for a long time now so we knew what to expect. We had a great offseason, a great winter and great summer, so we were able to move at a fast pace all day.”
Fred Mozzocio’s Lancers squad trotted out 41 players yesterday. Last year, the Lancers suited up 37 on the first day.
“The numbers are good; we’re satisfied with the numbers,” Mozzocio said. “The guys that have shown up all along are the guys that are here.”
Neshannock went with three sessions on the first day — morning, afternoon and evening.
“We did some basic installs with things on offense and we did the same with the defense in the afternoon,” Mozzocio said. “We did a walk-through and some special teams stuff in the evening.
“I thought everything went pretty good. It was pretty smooth for the most part. It’s just a matter of getting the shoulder pads on and getting the physicality of it down. We have to get used to all that again.”
A key camp battle for Neshannock will come at quarterback. Mozzocio has three players competing for the starting job — Jason Nativio, Ethan Weatherby and Kurt Sommerfield.
Mozzocio also credited Joey Antuono, Braden Gennock, Connor Montgomery, Andy Presnar and Josh Medure as performing well on the first day.
Second-year coach Jimmy Graham, a former multi-sport star for the Wildcats, welcomed 31 players, down nine from last season’s 40, for the two-a-day workouts.
“We consistently had about 20 players over the summer and they all showed up today,” Graham said. “I’m a firm believer in athletes playing multiple sports, so I tell the kids, if you play baseball in the summer, then go play baseball. As long as you’re doing something to stay active.”
Shenango took its knocks last season, but the good news is that many of Graham’s players saw action in 2018. The Wildcats started seven freshmen the final game of the season and have 10 players back on each side of the ball who started at one point last year.
“It’s hard to believe we have 10 starters back on both sides of the ball,” Graham said. “We have our quarterback, running back, line and wide receivers back for the most part. Playing young kids was the nature of the beast last year.
“I’m pretty optimistic, because as poorly as we played last year, we’ve built on it and I think we can only keep getting better. It’s a lot to ask from a ninth-grader to step in and start. Hopefully we’re past that point now and can just play some football.”
The Scotties’ numbers dipped to a county-low 18. Last year, they had 21 on the first day.
“It’s not a surprise,” veteran Union coach Stacy Robinson said. “Throughout the summer, we were hoping to try and recruit a few more. But we didn’t.
“We’re not going to cry about it. I sure am proud of the 18 that we have out here. We’ll work with them; I’m proud of the 18 that showed up.”
Despite the season opener over a week away, Robinson isn’t optimistic about that number increasing.
“We’ll take them if they want to come,” he said. “But we have to move on. We have a lot of coaching to do.
“We owe it to them to coach them up to the best of their abilities.”
The Scotties condensed the opening day of practice to one four-hour session.
“Without numbers, we tried to be efficient out there,” Robinson said. “ We took a little break in between.
“Our guys get a lot of reps on both sides of the ball. We need to keep them fresh and ready.”
Robinson acknowledged the early success of the team’s three seniors — Tyler Benedict, Mike Flowers and Bryce Smith.
“They are leaders and they are leading by example,” Robinson said.
The Greyhounds welcomed 43 players to camp, down eight from a season ago.
“I’m very happy with our numbers,” second-year Wilmington coach Brandon Phillian said. “We had a big senior class last year (16).”
Phillian’s group started at the beginning yesterday.
“Our focus today was to just get back and hit those fundamentals and techniques,” he said. “We had two practice sessions.
“We spend a little more time offensively than we do defensively. And we have a special teams period built in as well.”
The Greyhounds lost eight starters on both sides of the ball from last year.
“We have multiple battles on both sides of the ball,” Phillian said.
“There’s a lot on the line for the kids and they are really working hard.”
Junior McConahy and Shane Cox helped get this year’s Greyhounds group started strong.
“They are both senior captains and they set the tempo and intensity for us,” Phillian said. “They both had a solid practice.”
Wilmington has reached the PIAA Class 2A championship game each of the last two years.
Phillian said this year’s team isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Absolutely, there’s a hunger with this team,” Phillian said. “Something that would be easy for this group is to get complacent. They could rest on their laurels.
“It’s been the opposite, though. They’ve remained hungry and humble. There’s a hunger there. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together to achieve a common goal.”