The lights were on for a reason as they shined brightly down on a new football season at Pioneer High School 1 minute after midnight on Monday morning. And while the numbers at Pioneer may be down a little, there was no lack of enthusiasm, determination or second or third chances – we’ll get to that in a minute.
Pioneer head coach Bill Bellers was eager to get his second season with the Pioneers under way. He was actually ready to go as soon as the final whistle blew during last year’s 26-16 loss to Ypsilanti on Oct. 20. But high school rules prevent teams from practicing until Aug. 6 – and Aug. 6 for Pioneer started as soon as the clock crossed the goal line into Monday.
It’s easy to think – at least on paper – that starting football practice at midnight is some kind of gimmick. Some kind of silly introduction to the new season or some way to motivate the young players.
But Monday morning’s practice at Pioneer was the furthest thing from a camp out or sleep over or midnight stroll on the turf under the lights. Call it was it really was – a football practice.
If there were two lessons to take from Monday’s early start was “opportunity” and “every minute counts.” Bellers told his players before they began their workout that this is where you turn opportunity into playing time. This is where you earn the chance to get on the field and get the chance to make a difference in the outcome of a football game.
It took a few minutes for the players to “wake up” and the coaches weren’t about to let anything slide. Drills had to be perfect. Any mistake and it was back to the starting line and there were more than a few back to the starting lines early on in practice.
Coaches also brought up a few lowlights from last year – a 49-7 loss to Saline among them – to help motivate and get the focus where it needed to be. And as the breeze picked up and the lights warmed up, the focus became more locked in as practice moved along.
As the clock ticked into the early morning hours, the players seemed to pick up their games. They were working hard and taking this first practice seriously. It was the first step toward the new season and the Pioneers may have just gotten a step on everyone else.
Every minute counts when there is opportunity to be had.