KINGSLEY — The Kingsley football team couldn't wait to get the 2012 season started.
At midnight on Monday morning, the Stags emerged on the darkened hill on the east side of Rodes Field. They walked down to the field, gathered for a moment and then started jogging a couple of warm-up laps under the lights.
Football season had begun as teams could start holding practice on Monday. For the second straight year, Kingsley practiced under the lights as soon as the clock hit midnight.
"The whole idea was to get kids excited about football," Stags coach Jason Leonard said. "It's kind of a race against time. You're only allowed so many practice days, you have to have nine in before you scrimmage, you have to have certain days in before you take pads. I think what we try to do is add a little excitement for the kids."
Kingsley practiced until around 2:30 a.m. Monday morning and then went again from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"A true two-a-day," Leonard said.
While teams held camps over the summer, Monday was different as the first official practice.
"Tonight's the night," Kingsley senior Tristan Eickenroth said. "It's different because you've got to put everything together. Summertime, we work on little things and coaches are adamant about everything. Tonight's the time to get it done. You've got to put everything together and do it right."
After warm-ups, Leonard broke the Stags into groups and started doing individual drills.
"Tonight's a pretty normal routine," Leonard said. "We'll go through a bunch of offensive stuff tonight. We'll focus on our bread and butter plays. We'll try to break it down simply tonight and the next couple of days to keep it simple for the kids. And then we'll move on to other stuff."
The start of football came after an emotional weekend in Kingsley, following Saturday's funeral for Justin Hansen, a 2003 grad and U.S. Marine killed July 24 in Afghanistan.
"It was actually really exciting to be part of Kingsley this week," Leonard said. "Sgt. Justin Hansen passing away in Afghanistan was obviously a huge loss to the community and the pride that's established here. But he was a true American hero. And it was just a great way to honor him the last couple of days. And it was a great way for our kids to maybe learn a life lesson as well."
Kingsley went 6-4 last year and returned to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Leonard brings back 18 seniors on his 25-man varsity squad.
"Our expectations are always really high," Leonard said. "But with this year's class being senior-loaded, our expectations are probably a little higher. They've been in the system now with the new offense and the new defense. We're kind of in a reload situation, where we don't have to replace a lot of kids off of last year's team.
"But as far as expectations, they're always high. We expect to win. We want to win conference, we want to win playoff games, we want to win a district, we want to win a regional, we want to play at Ford Field. But it's going to be one game at a time."
Eickenroth returns at running back for his senior season. Last year, he was an All-State honorable mention.
"I'm taking a big leadership role," Eickenroth said. "I'm a senior now, so I've got to step up more than I did last year. I've got to get everyone going to make it a good year."
Other schools got going early Monday morning with practice.
At Camp Rotary in Clare, TC West began practice at 6 a.m. The Titans had a couple of morning sessions, some team-building activities and swimming in the afternoon, followed by an evening practice. Besides the players and coaches, TC West brought around a dozen dads to help out with the camp.
"We've done this every year I've coached," Titans coach Tim Wooer said. "It's a neat opportunity to get to meet the kids and for the kids to meet the coaches. Two-a-days can be tough. This is an opportunity to get a lot of work done, but also have some fun too."
This year, TC Central took a similar approach by leaving town for the first couple days of practice. The Trojans are practicing at the Leelanau School Monday and Tuesday.
Traverse City St. Francis opened up practice Monday at Grand Valley State University, and will be there through Wednesday.
KINGSLEY — The Kingsley football team couldn't wait to get the 2012 season started.
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