Fine-tuning fills summer's lull


Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Members of the Jasper football team huddled together July 18 at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium after their summer workout session was cut short by lightning. Coach Tony Ahrens, right, joked the boys should use the extra time to sell more raffle tickets as part of the team’s fundraiser. Jasper and other area football squads have put in plenty of summer work ahead of Monday’s official start of preseason practice.

Herald Sports Writer

It’s 7 a.m. on a summer morning. Do you know where your local football team is?

Chances are the squad is practicing, lifting weights and going through drills. That’s the plan for how area football coaches adjust for temperatures that regularly soar into triple digits and avoiding evenings when their players have other things happening.

Though players don’t necessarily need to be cajoled to get to practice — all four coaches talked of high-spirited summer workouts that transpired earlier in the month — coaches aren’t adverse to mixing things up. Even at places that have experienced tons of winning.

One change new Heritage Hills coach Todd Wilkerson made this summer was having the Patriots go through more agility-based drills in the hopes of conjuring an upbeat tempo. So far, it’s worked.

“It’s a lot more comfortable than you’d think it’d be, since he’s been an assistant for as long as he has,” Patriot senior quarterback Justin Hedinger said. “It’s a big change, but it’s a comfortable change.”

At Forest Park, meanwhile, Ranger senior Lance Buechler characterized workouts as “more upbeat” and “more modern-style” this season with Ross Fuhs in charge. Previously, Fuhs was an assistant at Southridge under current Raider leader Kelly Murphy. Morning workouts had been a staple at Southridge, and also at Forest Park while Fuhs was an assistant under previous coach Terry Wagner. While both Wilkerson and Fuhs talked of the opportunity to implement new techniques and drills, major overhauls aren’t necessarily taking place. Following Murphy and Jasper coach Tony Ahrens, the two new guys delegate plenty of tasks. They’re also happy to listen, something which Murphy implored Fuhs to do.

“One of the big things for me — and Ross and I have actually talked about this a lot of different times — is the fact that as a head coach, you’ve got to make sure the assistants are involved,” Murphy said. “I give them an opportunity to voice their opinions on everything.”

Before his assistants began overseeing defensive drills a few weeks ago during volunteer workouts at Raider Field, Murphy continued his role as overseer of the scout team that night, making sure each player had a chinstrap. Likewise, Ahrens talked of his capable assistants, Geoff Mauck (offensive) and Nick Eckert (defensive), saying, “If you’re going to be able to keep any sanity you’re going to delegate responsibility to your staff; we’re lucky we have two guys who are able to take that responsibility.”

Murphy and Ahrens already are aware of something that’s becoming more transparent to their coaching counterparts: Their players are gearing up not just for another football season, but for another sports season.

“We try not to do too much,” Murphy said. “There’s a fine line there, because at our school, it’s small enough still to where everybody plays everything, and we encourage that.”

“After the school year, you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s over, and now it’s time to start another year,’” added Southridge senior Ben Weber, a three-sport participant. “It really makes you feel good knowing that your body can take a lot more than what you think and you just find the strength and courage and try to get as much rest as you can to overcome what you have lying ahead of you.”

Weber added, “It’s definitely good for time management, and understanding what you can do and how much you can do” in describing how to find a balance.
Coaches can relate to the feeling.

Knowing the end-of-season push will be needed as a backdrop, that’s why summer workouts aren’t three-hour marathons that see players keeled over halfway through practice.

Three times a week, Jasper players gather shortly after sunrise for nearly an hour and a half to lift weights. Occasionally, there will be 7-on-7 workouts in the evening, but that’s more of an aberration than any regular occurrence. Between jobs and a variety of basketball and baseball leagues that demand attention, kids have plenty of options. Ahrens knows this. That’s why there’s more of a focus on terse, intense practices before the grinding season commences.

“What it does for those kids, it prevents a whole lot of problems in the evening,” Ahrens said of the near-dawn workouts. “There’s so many things going on. We avoid that by giving our kids strength training in the morning and then they’re free in the evening and we don’t bother them.”

There’s something else Ahrens considers. He coaches at a school that boasts numerous successful teams throughout the year, meaning his best athletes usually aren’t one-sport competitors. There’s a certain amount of give-and-take Ahrens knows is inherent when scheduling summer workouts. But that doesn’t mean he’s giving anything up. The exact opposite, in fact.

“You have to be reasonable and work with the other programs,” Ahrens said. “Your good athletes are going to play others sports. It only helps them become more successful, and in the end, they’re going to be better for it.”

Contact John Patishnock at

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