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Making the tour around Bureau County

There’s nothing like the first day of football practice to get the blood flowing again for some pigskin fever.

The first person I found at Monday’s opening practice at Princeton High School was Nate Norman, former Tiger all-state running back. It’s hard to believe Nate’s now 20 years removed from the high school scene. He says he wanted to come out and check out what new coach Ryan Pearson has in store for the Tigers this year. He says he likes what he’s seen.

The old sports editor was in the spirit as well, making my way to all four Bureau County camps on opening day of practice. I don’t believe I’ve ever been able to do that before when we had Monday and Wednesday production days here at the paper. Certainly was never able to hit all the sights back in the pre-consolidation days of Bureau Valley.

While I’ve been covering these opening days for 31 years now around Bureau County, I always find something new.

Today, I found two new head coaches and a host of new assistants, some old faces in new places, some familiar faces in old places and a pair of two knees (more on that later).

At St. Bede: I arrive at the academy about 10 minutes before the 9 a.m. bell and even beat the coaching staff out to the field. The boys are already getting stretched out and ready to go when the coaches arrive.

There’s a lot of new talent playing key roles for the Bruins this year, who were hit hard by graduation after their successful playoff run in 2016. There were 43 players when the Bruins opened camp today.

Third-year Bruins head coach Jim Eustice was sporting some knees, fresh off having both knees scoped over the summer. While not perhaps as nimble to take some snaps behind center from his days as quarterback at Ottawa Marquette and Southeast Missouri State, he’s raring to go for the new season.

Eustice is incorporating the help this week of his son, Bryant, the Bruins’ former quarterback who will depart Friday to report for the start of his freshman season at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minn. He is one of five members of last year’s playoff team that are off playing college ball. Brady Booker, Braidy Shipp and Josh Sapp have all reported to Quincy University, while Justin Darnell will play for Ridgewater Junior College in Welmar, Minn.

Bruins assistant coach Bill Booker, styling in his Bruins floppy hat that works just as well for his fishing days, said his grocery bill has been drastically cut with the departure of his youngest child to college.

Eustice ran the Bruins through morning and afternoon sessions with some walk-throughs and a break for lunch and swimming between for their required time off.

It took a little getting used to seeing former Hall Superintendent Mike Struna on the job as the new athletic director for St. Bede. It’s actual a homecoming for the 1976 SBA alum.

The Bruins will kick off the season at home Friday, Aug. 25, against Fulton.

At Hall: The next stop on my 2017 football tour is just down road at neighbor Hall. These Spring Valley rivals will meet Sept. 22 for a Week 5 showdown at Nesti Stadium.

Coach Randy Tieman got his troops up bright and early at 7 a.m., and practice is winding down as I get to the practice field. There 51 players in camp Monday, including 24 varsity players, 17 sophomores and 10 freshmen. Tieman said he thought their first day was good, and “we got accomplished what we wanted.”

Nice to see assistant coach Dave Rucinski back at in again, having used football as part of his rehab and therapy from two strokes a year ago. I shared his story a year ago from the Red Devils’ camp.

Old standby Joe Furlan and Steve Smith return to the Hall staff along with Adam Meyer. Former Red Devil standout Nick Guerrini has joined the staff this year.

Tieman had some conditioning in store for the Red Devils at the end of practice, so I figure it would be a good time to head out. Hall fans will get to see this year’s team for Red-White Scrimmage Aug. 18 to prepare for the Aug. 25 season opener at Orion.

At Princeton: I was on the way back to Tiger Town, where the Ryan Pearson era was getting under way. The new Tiger coach comes via Canton, landing his fourth head coaching position.

Pearson reports having 52 players in the program this week and was pleased how the first day went.

"I thought our first day went extremely well. I'm pushing the boys very hard and were pleased with how they're responding," he said.

Along with Norman, I get another blast from the past seeing PHS athletic director Jeff Ohlson now on the Tigers football staff. He was head football coach at Bureau Valley from 2008-13 before returning home to his alma mater (PHS Class of ‘92) in 2015 as AD.

Pearson preaches about team work as he prepared the Tigers for a practice-ending conditioning drill. They were assigned in pairs, and both partners had to complete the drill for their team to earn points.

After Monday’s morning session, the Tigers will take to the practice field at 4 p.m. the rest of the week.

Blue-White Night is set for Friday, Aug. 18, with the season opener following the next week at Bryant Field when the Tigers welcome the Rams of Riverdale to Tiger Town.

At Bureau Valley: After a break in the office, my final stop on opening practice day takes me to Manlius for the home of the Storm. They are under the direction this year of rookie head coach Joe Schmitt, formerly an assistant at Annawan/Wethersfield. He is the 10th head coach that longtime Storm assistant Craig Johnson has worked under, dating back to his days at Buda Western 29 years ago.

The Storm took the practice field with 48 players in camp. These practices are run with helmets and no pads per the IHSA acclimation period. They will break out the pads at week’s end.

Schmitt brings a lot of high energy to practice but still finds the time to make a quick introduction to the old sports editor and my pal, Brent Jamison. He says the first day for practice went well.

The new Storm coach has a nice mix of young coaches and wise veterans in Johnson and Dave Moore, the former BV head coach who led the Storm to the 2005 state championship before departing for Princeton.

The Storm are scheduled to practice in the late afternoon hours. They will open the season at Erie-Prophetstown Aug. 25.

Kevin Hieronymus is the BCR Sports Editor. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com.

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