Gielczyk: Bear Lake Preps for Inaugural Football Season

In less than a week high school football teams around the state will begin three days of physical conditioning before players strap on the pads for the first time as preparations begin in earnest for the 2017 season.

For some, it will be a totally new experience.

Excitement is running high in Bear Lake as the Lakers’ get ready for their first football season ever.

The Lakers have 19 rostered players, which falls considerably short of the number required to field two teams – varsity and junior varsity – and just about half of them have no experience at all.

Oh, they’re familiar with football, but primarily as spectators. Many of them have never even picked up a football to throw around the yard, and their experience consists of playing pick-up games.

If that.

So it wasn’t any surprise for head coach John Prokes when he was bombarded by questions when the Lakers convened for a three-day team camp at Brethren, where the Lakers will play their home games this fall.

He patiently answered each one, sometimes two and three times, even using visual demonstrations with other players to bring the explanation into clear focus for the befuddled youngster.

Numbers were good for the camp, with about 15 showing up each day. But, that was expected. After all, it’s something new. The physical pounding that is inherent in the sport has yet to come.

The key is to maintain the excitement level once practice starts, and then through the season when the Lakers begin to go up against someone other than their teammates. The true test of their stamina lies ahead.

“When you start to put on some pads and bang around, and practice gets to be every day for three hours … that’s a different ball game,” Prokes said. “Especially when it’s early August and it’s still warm out, school hasn’t started and the kids have their minds on other things.

“But, it’s definitely exciting. I think the kids are excited to get the season started. Based on the few times a week we meet for strength and conditioning, I think our kids are anxious to get at it.

“They’ve been talking about it since December and January, and now we’re within a week of practice. The excitement is definitely building. I feel from our kids that there’s a genuine anticipation and enthusiasm with the program.”

As the team paused for one of their frequent water breaks to make sure everyone is well hydrated to prevent heat exhaustion, and give the coaches time to set up the next drill, senior Daniel Aguler trotted over to give me a few moments of his time.

Now that the talking is done, and the team actually working out, Aguler admits he’s growing more eager to start practice. He can’t wait for the games to begin, so he can show what he can do.

With his speed, Aguler hopes earn a starting role as a split end or an offensive end, although Prokes has only seen a small sample in camp and needs more time to gather information to evaluate the talent on the squad.

“It feels awesome, being with a whole team outside,” Aguler said with a wide grin. “Knowing that we’re actually going to have an actual, real football team is beyond words. I’ve always actually wanted to play football. I just never competed with the co-op (with Onekama).

“Well, I think I’m making good progress. I’ve studying after school since January with coach Prokes and the other guys. I think have it down pretty well. Once you get the pads, it’s going to be more real. It’ll be ‘I can’t believe it’s really happening.'”

Aguler has shown an ability to catch passes, runs excellent routes and has a knack for getting into open space. Plus, he has what is referred to as “soft hands.” He makes an excellent target for whoever will be the quarterback.

But, so far it’s only been running in shorts and T-shirts. He hasn’t been tested by a defensive back tasked with making sure he doesn’t get his hands on the ball, or altering his route to present a better target when his quarterback is being pressured.

The process is still in its formative stages, and the Lakers understand they have a lot more work to be done.

“You have to have a lot of heart, a lot of determination,” said Prokes. “Some kids have that. They just have to show that they have it. At camp, you’re trying to team some technique, and you think they can pick it quickly.

“But, it just takes repetition, repetition, repetition. And that’s going to come in practice, which can unfortunately appear to some kids as boring.”

Now that the Lakers have had a little taste of what they can expect when practice starts next week, and have learned some of the techniques of blocking, tackling, running and throwing the ball, they can start implementing the offense and defense.

Prokes knows the coaching staff has its work cut out, but they’re main goal is to make sure the kids have fun and improve each week.

Everyone is anxiously waiting for the first kickoff, when Bear Lake will make history.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. 

Categories: Football