It was officially the first day of practice for many student-athletes at Saline High School Monday. As the football players ran through plays on the auxiliary field, cross country runners circled Hornet Stadium Monday morning.
In many ways, it was the first day of practice in name only.
Saline football head coach Joe Palka said he was encouraged by how good his players looked.
After all, before the recent one-week break, the team had a week-long camp. And before that, the players participated in 7-on-7s.
“We’re really probably more than halfway done with our install. I was encouraged today because it feels like we picked off where we left off a week ago. It’s not like starting all over, which is encouraging to see,” Palka said.
Last year’s Hornets came into the regular season without much buzz in the high school football media. This year’s team is getting much more hype.
Coach Palka downplayed some of the pre-season hype surrounding the team.
“It doesn’t really mean anything. Sometimes people on the outside equate Division 1 guys to great team success, and I don’t equate it that way. It’s not like college where everyone knows what we’re about all year long. People don’t know, so they’re making wild guesses,” Palka said.
What Palka does look at is starters. And there are only two and half returning on offense and four on defense. So there’s a lot of new kids stepping into big shoes.
“What we have to do is figure out what we’ve got. We’ve got some kids we think are pretty good. But when you lose kids like Connor Hibbard, Zach Schwartzenberger and Bryce Wolma, that’s unbelievable production that you just can’t easily replace,” Palka said.
Still Palka thinks this team has the horses.
“We’ve got guys we think can do it, but they’ve got to show it,” Palka said. “We may struggle early, even if we win games. But once we figure things out, I think we’ll start to be a good football team by mid-season -- a playoff team.”
Through the offseason and the summer, Palka has been impressed by many players.
On the offensive line, everyone knows Dimitri Douglas and Zach Drevno. Palka has been impressed by Greg Pool and Zarek Bratschi.
“They had great winters and will bolster the offensively line,” Palka said.
Brendan Munday, who looked great coming in for Connor Hibbard in the second half in many games last year, continues to impress his coaches.
At quarterback, newcomer Cameron Richardson is turning heads. Cole Daniels, a southpaw with a great arm, is also in the mix. JDrew McGovern is a quarterback with the kind of speed Palka’s teams like at the position.
Whoever lines up behind center will throw to 6’4, 210-pound TE Emmett Turner.
“Everyone knows about Emmett Turner. He’s going to have a great year,” Palka said.
On the defensive side, the team is led by linebacker CJ Gildersleeve, the Central Michigan commit who has started since his sophomore year.
“CJ Gildersleeve has really stepped up his leadership. He’s been here for awhile and he’s taken over, which has been impressive,” Palka said.
Junior Connor Terech is turning heads at weak-side linebacker.
Drew Richardson, twin of QB Cameron, has impressed at cornerback. It’s proving to be a position of strength. D1 recruit CB MJ Griffin and Brad Feldkamp also play corner.
The biggest question on defense may be the defensive line, where the team graduated Sean O’Keefe, Nate Powers, Dylan Powers, and Justice Moss among others.
“We’re a little smaller on the defensive line,” Palka said. “Amadi Kingsley and Trevor Garbo didn’t play much last year, but we’re relying heavily on them this year. They had great a great offseason and now it’s their turn to take over.”
On Thursday, August 24 at 4 p.m. Saline High School will host Rockford High School in The Battle at the Big House to open the season. Tickets for the event are now on sale for $10 online at the link below.
Click here: Battle at the Big House Tickets
In addition, you can purchase spirit gear in advance of the event online as well.