CHERRY TWP, Pa. (EYT/D9) — The hill rises precipitously from the football field to the parking lot at Moniteau High School.
From the bottom looking up the steep slope, it’s intimidating. It’s difficult to even climb in a careful walk, let alone a full-out sprint.
But twice a day during heat acclimatization week, as well as throughout preseason camp, members of the Warrior football team race up that hill. And then carefully weave their way down. Then, up it again.
(Above, Moniteau players sprint up the steep hill from the football field to the parking lot/photos by Mike Kilroy)
It’s a lung-burning, leg-seizing, soul-draining experience. Players have said they feel like dying once the grueling charges up the grassy face are complete. Conquering Mount Everest might be an easier endeavor, players quip.
But it serves a purpose.
“I think it’s what sets up apart from other teams, the fact we have that big hill,” said senior center/defensive tackle Maverick Sutton. “When you stand down there the first day of camp, it’s like looking at the season. You’re going to face adversity. You’re going to face struggles. But at the end, when you get that 100th hill and you’re on your way down, you go, ‘I did it.’”
One hundred hills is the goal at every Moniteau camp. “Heat Week” is a way for the Warriors to get a jump on that goal, as well as the many others they set for themselves before the season kicks off.
(“When you stand down there the first day of camp, it’s like looking at the season — Moniteau senior Maverick Sutton).
Since 2013, the PIAA has mandated that football teams across the Commonwealth complete five consecutive days of heat acclimatization before full contact practices can begin. Players are only permitted to wear helmets and shoulder pads during Heat Week and contact is prohibited.
At first, coaches balked at the idea. It robbed them of a week of two-a-day practices and precious time in full-contact drills.
But over time, coaches and players have adjusted.
“At first it was something different, you know,” said Union/A-C Valley coach Brad Dittman. “Now, we’ve adapted to it and we have a system that works for us.”
It has forced coaches to streamline what they need to do to prepare for a season.
At Karns City, that means installing the bulk of the offensive and defensive playbooks during Heat Week so when camp truly begins, players are ready to execute it full speed with contact.
In theory, anyway.
“It used to be we’d have two weeks of camp. Now we basically have four days,” said Karns City coach Joe Sherwin. “We have to get in a lot of work now (during Heat Week). This is very valuable, very important. But when you go through it without pads on and with pads on, it makes a big difference. Once the bullets start flying for real, all the stuff you did before it goes out the window sometimes.”
(Karns City lines up to run a play at a Heat Week practice)
It also gives coaches a glimpse into what to expect in the upcoming season.
Both good and bad.
At Central Clarion, first-year coach Dave Eggelton has seen a lot of good already.
“We’ve had a really positive week of heat acclimation,” Eggelton said. “Our offensive line has really taken their game to the next level and we are excited about how our offense is coming together. Defensively we are seeing a lot of speed. We have an aggressive group that flies to the football.”
Heat Week was originally designed to help players ease into camp, get used to the sweltering weather in August and condition before the rigors of two-a-days.
However, unseasonably cool temperatures in past years have nullified that affect.
Not so much this year.
Monday was sweltering. Thursday was downright oppressive, with a heat index of 103 degrees in some places.
(Redbank Valley coach Blane Gold talks to his team after a sweltering Heat Week practice on Monday)
As far as conditioning goes, that, too, may be moot during Heat Week.
“We’re always conditioning,” Dittman said. “We condition all summer long, so I think these guys are used to the heat. We’re going to continue to work on conditioning throughout Heat Week.”
Coaches have also found the week to be a good opportunity to get back to basics.
Moniteau coach Bob Rottman uses the five days of heat acclimatization to acclimate his team to a heat of a different kind: the mental fire his players will come under during a football season.
“We focus on technique and things like that,” Rottman said. “But we also focus a lot on the mental part of game.”
Enter “The Hill.”
“We run it as a team. We suffer it as a team,” Sutton said. “It just gives us that extra drive going into the season knowing that if we can beat this hill in the hot, August sun, we can beat anyone on a Friday night.”