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Heat is on for first day of football practice

It's a warm one this morning as football teams get started with the first day of practice permitted in the state.St. Joe's goes station to station during a practice you can see (and take pictures of) from Wilton Parkway.

We'll be taking a tour around Western New York on Day One as teams prepare for the season-opening weekend of Sept. 4-5 -- just 18 days away. 

9:55 a.m. Football teams have been at it for a while this morning as I get started. My first stop brings the sound of whistles and the sight of different practice stations being rotated around by the Marauders of St. Joe's (hey, I live in the Northtowns).

I do a quick drive-by (photo) shoot just to get things started.

10:12 a.m. A quick drive up Colvin Ave. brings me to Crosby Field, where a field full of royal blue T-shirts are doing various drills. It's Kenmore West.

Bonus: I pull over next to the field and don't have to use my wireless card -- thanks to some nice Kenmore resident.

Not a bonus: I realize I don't have my News identification, which I don't feel quite comfortable not having as I'm about to go on the field and take some pictures.

Assistant coach J.J. Tutwiler works with the Kenmore West offense. 10:38 a.m. A quick ride home and I'm back at West watching assistant coaches J.J. Tutwiler and Mike Panepinto work with the offense. Tutwiler was a standout Grand Island quarterback in my first year covering high schools -- somebody is feeling a little old.

"It's a hot one," says Panepinto as we lament where this summery weather has been all summer. "You knew it was going to happen," he says with a smile.

11:02 a.m. Just posted a link from the home page of buffalonews.com.

Also noticed that today there is an ozone advisory

11:10 a.m. Just got some sad news after a call from the office. Lou Reuter has passed away after his lengthy battle with cancer. Reuter was a longtime Kenmore East coach and supporter, a Ken-Ton school board member and I worked with him very closely through the Empire State Games -- he was the Western regional director for about the last decade. I'm not sure I've met anyone more committed to his community than Lou. The Kenmore East locker room now has Lou Reuter's name on its wall. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News)

My next stop was actually going to be Kenmore East. I'm still headed there but now I'll unfortunately be talking to some Bulldog folks about Lou's passing.

11:55 a.m. Definitely a tough day for Bulldog football. I just spoke with Ken East head coach Matt Chimera, who coached with and against Reuter, as well as Ken East assistant Jeff Martin, who played for him. 

They spoke about "Lou's words," the sayings that he would always use while coaching. He'd say "Holy Mackerel" from time to time, especially when a player wasn't doing what he was supposed to. "There are two seasons -- football season, and waiting for football season," was a big one. 

He might not have invented "Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog," but he sure said it a lot. That's why Chimera and Martin got the magic marker out to add coach Reuter's name to that saying in the East locker room.

When East got word of Reuter's passing during its morning practice, the coaches and the team knelt down in prayer on Sparky Adams Field.

With the heat so bad, the team decided not to practice outside in the afternoon. It was holding a offensive meeting in the locker room when I stopped by.

Daniel Dayton paints a sign that will signify OP's state title last year. 1:11 p.m. After some phone calls and some lunch, it's off to Orchard Park. The goal is to get to the two state champions in Erie County today. Sweet Home will follow since they go until 3 p.m.

2:02 p.m. Had a nice chat with OP coach Gene Tundo as he walked to the parking lot -- I lucked out and caught him as he was walking to his car. I thought practice went until 2 (that's what the OP Web site said) but it went until about 1. 

"Awesome," was how he described the first practice. "The guys are optimistic and are having some fun. The players have worked hard the last four months. It's a lot easier when you have kids who want to excel."

He said he mentioned last year's state championship once -- and that was it.

The Quakers stayed off the turf due to the heat and had regular water breaks built in to the schedule.

2:53 p.m. Arrive at Sweet Home and see noone on the football field -- but a few steps toward the locker room and I can see the team running through drills on the fields behind the bleacher. 

"Didn't we just finish this up?" Sweet Home coach John Faller says of the season already being upon us. "It seems that way to me."

Sweet Home coach John Faller (visor) presides over the Panthers' first practice. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News) His approach to Day One of being a defending state champion?

"All I told the kids was: We have that state championship, and noone will ever take it away from us," Faller said, "but the teams that we're playing this year have to beat this year's team, not last year's team. That team is gone.

"It's a case of -- this is your team, your identity: what are you going to be known for this year? They have to get their own identity."

The Panthers were running through offensive plays, with quarterbacks checking with Faller on what to call. There were a few nice completions downfield -- as nice as you could do in a drill with no pads and no defense out there. 

"It's a tough day -- we did testing in the morning, and we're just going through some basics today because you can't do anything with equipment and such. But that's OK. It gives us three days to get our kids adjusted to the terminology. We have a chalk talk to go over things. They'll catch on pretty quick."

It seems that state championship seasons are long -- and offseasons short. And that's a good thing. 

Check out the mini-rainbow caused by the misting hose set up just off to the right. (Keith McShea/Buffalo News) "There was so much carryover after the actual championship game, between celebrations and recognitions, people calling you and telling you, because you did as much as you possibly could -- it can be equaled but it can never be beaten," said Faller. "And that goes for all four of our Western New York championship teams. There's nothing wrong with it, but it did seem like the season kept going. There was always somebody calling you to talk about the season and this and this.

"But now, it's like, OK: This is this year. Let's get focused on this."

3:12 p.m. Headed to the home office (in a car which says it is 91 degrees out), then the real office to write up a story for tomorrow's paper on opening day.

Football season has officially begun.

* * *

Be sure to check out Miguel Rodriguez's report from a notable first practice day up in Wilson.

* * *

If you watched -- or participated in -- practice today, of course, let us know what you saw.

---Keith McShea

tagged

Football | High school football | Kenmore East | Kenmore West | Orchard Park | St. Joe's | Sweet Home
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About Prep Talk

Keith McShea

Keith McShea

Keith McShea has covered high school sports at The News since his hiring in 1999. The 1995 University at Buffalo graduate and Long Island native (North Babylon Bulldogs) covers — and live blogs — everything from scrimmages to state championships & helps head The News' All-Western New York selections.

@KeithMcSheaBN | kmcshea@buffnews.com

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