BELOIT—Mother Nature smiled upon the Beloit Turner football program Monday afternoon.
Under unseasonably warm temperatures, bright sun and blue skies, members of the 2021 Turner Trojans gathered for their first official practice of the season, only around seven months after they were initially scheduled.
The Trojans, along with other local schools, will play in the alternate “late spring” period, which will last six weeks, include five games and not include any postseason action.
More than two-thirds of the state took part in the traditional football schedule, complete with playoffs and state championships.
While local teams might not get any playoff glory, they will get to compete, a fact that was in dispute for much of the late fall and winter.
Turner coach Derek Diehl said the first practice was understandably rough.
“This is the first social experience for a lot of kids in a situation like this in a long time,” Diehl said. “I said afterwards that it was the worst practice in Turner history, but the big reason is that we don’t have the time to transition slowly into this thing. We have to have perfect attitude and perfect focus from day one, because the first game is going to be here before you know it.”
Turner will open the truncated season on Friday, March 26 against Columbus. Other opponents include traditional Rock Valley Conference opponents Edgerton, Big Foot and Clinton, with a game at Lodi sandwiched in the middle.
The recent uptick in temperature has allowed the majority of Turner’s practice and regular playing surface to be usable, something that certainly wasn’t the case last week.
Diehl said the biggest challenge his team will face early on is conditioning.
“We adhered to all of the Rock County protocols and recommendations and we didn’t cheat,” Diehl said. “So we are just now getting into the weight room. In years past, we could lift before practice and after. Now, we are building that into the practice time. So we’ll get stronger as we go. I’m not writing off the season, but I do think we need to be realistic in terms of our expectations.”
Teams that have experienced players, particularly at the skill positions, will be most likely to adapt well to the shortened prep period. That doesn’t exactly fit Turner’s profile.
“We are going to be extremely young,” Diehl said. “I’ve never relied on a sophomore class to win varsity football games. I don’t think it’s fair to ask a kid who just got his drives license to be asked to compete against men. Freshman and sophomore years are used to develop, and by the time they are juniors, they are ready to start. With this team, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not sure we even have 10 seniors on the team. This year’s sophomore class is going to have to step up. It’s a blessing and a curse, because this is going to really prepare them for their senior seasons.”
Relying on a complex playbook is also probably not the wisest maneuver.
“Both playbook and play structure are going to have to be simplified,” Diehl said. “We didn’t have our normal contact days where we spend entire periods just installing the offense. We’ve got to get our team prepared in the best way possible, and our philosophy this year is less is more.”