Although most of the young men on the field have been working out for months, training for the 2016 Saline football season officially began Monday.
For the next two weeks, football is a full-time job for a young Hornet football squad. Two-a-days have begun. At 8 a.m., the Hornets spend two hours running drills in Hornet Stadium. Then they retreat to the locker rooms to study film and go over plans. In the afternoon, they return to the field for another two hours of drills.
Coach Joe Palka, who coached the Hornets to 42 wins against five losses in his four seasons in Saline, explained what he was looking for on the first day of practice.
“We want to see players hustle and movement, and we want to see them be where they are supposed to be. The big thing right now is learning the mental game. I want to see them be sharp mentally and that they know where to line up and that they’re giving effort,” Palka said.
When Saline begins the season at Rockford High School Aug. 26, they’ll do so with none of the hype that surrounded last year’s squad. Last year’s team (11-1), which went undefeated in the regular season and lost 27-7 to Canton in the regional semifinal, was ranked number one in the state to start the season and made national rankings.
It seems impossible that anyone would underestimate Palka’s Hornets, but that may be the case.
“We’ve lost a lot of great players over the last two years. Nobody’s talking about us much. So I think we’ll play with a bit of a chip on our shoulders,” Palka said. “A year ago everyone was talking to us in the summer. Everyone’s talking about Pioneer and other teams. No matter what everyone else thinks, our expectation is to win a state championship. Our kids expect to play 14 games this year.”
Every year, Palka talks about getting better every week, but with so many young players in big roles, development will determine the team’s ability to succeed this year.
“We’re a young team. We have some seniors but we’ve got juniors moving into a lot of spots. So I think you’ll see us grow a lot during the season,” Palka said.
Saline faces a tough test week one at Rockford. The Hornets’ home opener is Sept. 4 against Windsor Holy Name. The SEC Red season opens Sept. 9 at home to Skyline.
“SEC is very tough. Monroe has a lot of players back. Pioneer is loaded. Just on pure talent, Skyline has three or four Division 1 players. Bedford will be much improved,” Palka said, offering a quick scouting report. “It’s going to be a tough road for a young team. But we’ll find a way.”
Saline his home to Bedford Sept. 16 before heading on the road for games against Huron Sept. 23 and Pioneer Sept. 30. The Hornets wrap up the SEC Red Oct. 7 on homecoming night against Monroe.
Saline visits Tecumseh Oct. 14 and finishes the season Oct. 21 against Birmingham Groves.