Practice has begun for the 2019 Saline football program.
The Hornets are coming off another big year. They lost their first game. They lost in the Division 1 semifinal. In between they won 11 straight games, won their fifth straight SEC Red championship, and captured district and regional trophies.
Not bad for a team that was supposed to be “down.”
Coach Joe Palka and his staff are leading the boys through two-a-day practices on the grassy field easy of the track stadium at Saline High School this week. The practices comes after last week’s camp at Grand Valley University.
There’s a lot to learn for a young team, but coach Palka likes the energy.
“The kids worked hard in camp. And now they’re back here and they’ve got a lot on their plate. I’m really impressed with their effort,” Palka said.
Football coaches often talk about having a young team at the start of a season. Saline’s team is young. Even younger than last year’s team.
“We’re young. Last year, we were more inexperienced than young. A lot of seniors were pressed into starting roles. But we’re pretty young this year,” Palka said.
The Hornets graduated a ton of starters - the quarterback, the running back, the all-state tight end, the all-state cornerback, the defensive line.
“We’re going to be young, especially at the skill positions,” Palka said.
Larry Robinson, the sophomore quarterback, was taking reps with the number one unit in practice. Junior Anthony Ferrari was taking reps with the number two unit. Both looked sharp Tuesday, with Ferrari putting lots of zip on his passes and Robinson showing speed and elusiveness on the run.
Cade Gilless, the state-qualifying wrestler, has rejoined the football team and is playing running back. He and junior Gavin Lytle, who handled rushing duties for the JV team last year, seeing lots of action at running back. Kolton Malinczak, a fearless returner on special teams, is the most proven receiver returning to the team.
One of the most experienced groups on the team is the offensive line, led by Lance Blaszak, Kyler Blake-Jones and Henry Koenen.
On defense, the Hornets have graduated most of their starting defensive line. Senior Zach Sabin is the dean of the defensive line. Joshua Brannon and Brett Baldus are among those who figure to make their mark this year. Alex Mitchell, a three-year starter who will play football Air Force next year, retuns at linebacker. He’s joined by fellow senior and returning starter Monty Green.
In the secondary, seniors Kyle Greenwood and Noah Nelson bring speed and playmaking ability, as well as experience.
Saline needs its seniors leadership to help the Hornets through the early part of the schedule. Saline opens the season against defending state champ Chippewa Valley.
“One of the things we’ve been doing after practice is having the coaches recognize kids who’ve been stand outs. And most of those kids have been the seniors. So it’s good to see them stepping up and leading the way,” Palka said.
Saline kicks off the 2019 season against Chippewa Valley at 7 p.m., Aug. 29, at Wayne State University.
Here’s the schedule
Aug. 29, 7 p.m. vs Chippewa Valley (at Wayne State)
Sept. 6, 7 p.m. vs Brantford Assumption College (Canadian)
Sept. 13, 7 p.m. vs Adrian
Sept. 20, 7 p.m. vs Huron
Sept. 27, 7 p.m. @ Monroe
Oct. 4, 7 p.m. @ Bedford
Oct. 11, 7 p.m. @ Skyline
Oct. 18, 7 p.m. vs Skyline
Oct. 25, 7 p.m., vs Grand Blanc