HILLMAN-The two weeks of preseason football practice gives teams time to address issues that plagued them last year and a chance fill in roster holes caused by graduation. It's often a taxing process that requires difficult decisions, which can affect an entire season.
The Hillman Tigers seem to have very few of these issues to address. In fact, since Hillman has retained far more players than it lost, its preseason feels more like a tune-up than a rebuild.
"We're really working on getting our timing back. It's been a year and we have to get back to operating quickly and efficiently. Considering how quick our offensive tries to be, timing will be our main thing," Hillman coach Bill Koenig said.
News Photo by Eric Benac
Hillman football coach Bill Koenig watches his players warm up during practice on Wednesday. Hillman is focusing on team speed and a strong core of nine returners to fight through a North Star League with a lot of rebuilding teams.
The exhausting conditioning drills that many teams run during the preseason haven't been a major concern for the Tigers: most of their players either made off-season visits to the weight room or worked out at home.
"We've got more kids hitting the weight room than we have in the past, especially the younger players," Koenig said. "The older ones, the seniors and some of the juniors, have physically demanding jobs to keep them in shape."
Other players have been busy performing in other sports during the summer.
"We're really working on getting our timing back. It's been a year and we have to get back to operating quickly and efficiently."
-Hillman coach Bill Koenig
"A lot went to basketball camps and some are playing travel baseball," Koenig said. "I would say this is probably the best shape we've been in coming into the season."
The conditioning drills the team does run during a practice focus on simply warming up the body. Several laps around the field are followed by extensive stretching before the team moves on to tougher running, throwing and timing drills.
With a squad of 18 players, the Tigers have plenty of bodies for scrimmages. These scrimmages help players master their routes, blocking, tackling and timing.
All in all, things may be business as usual for the Tigers this preseason, but a few key changes to their offense have been showing up during practice drills.
While running backs like Kenny Kolcan attempt to master Hillman's running attack, senior quarterback Ty Jones is taking plenty of throwing reps with his receivers to master a more aerial approach.
In fact, Jones appears to be taking his role as a throwing quarterback a lot more seriously.
"Jones is very talented and from the first day of football camp, he's been coming out full bore and giving me what I want out of him," Koenig said.
While a quarterback is essential to any team, he needs receivers to hit. Luckily for the Tigers, senior receiver Travis Powers seems to be coming into his own during practice.
"Another one that's coming out strong this year is Travis Powers," Koenig said. "In previous seasons, he seemed to want to do just enough to be better than the guy next to him, but this year he wants to be a leader on the team."
Hillman's first game is against Rudyard, a team which Hillman hasn't faced since 2011 in a playoff game which the Tigers lost 14-8.
Since then, the Bulldogs, a member of the Ski Valley conference, have had a couple of down years. They went 0-9 in 2012 and 3-6 last year.
In spite of these results, Koenig is not overlooking Rudyard's potential. He knows what to anticipate from them and is busy preparing his team for the challenge.
"They're physical and hit hard. Anybody who you play north of the bridge, they come out and hit. I also think they should be pretty quick this year and hopefully we match up with them there," Koenig said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.