REALLY, TIME TO HUDDLE UP

Carthage players take part in drills during Monday afternoon in the first day of high school football practice at Carthage. The Comets are practicing on grass while new turf is being installed on their main field. Chris Fitz Gerald/Watertown Daily Times

Even with Monday’s muggy and steamy weather conditions, high school football teams throughout Section 3 were out in force and the north country was no exception.

And a year after the traditional season across New York state was postponed because of precautions taken concerning the pandemic, practices during the late summer began in earnest.

“It’s unbelievable,” Jason Coffman said of the excitement of the first day of practice. “You know, it’s so much fun being back here in the fall when we can do double sessions when it’s like 80 degrees. When we did spring football we had to worry about being inside because it was too cold or we had snow on the ground.”

Teams such as Carthage and Indian River opened up with double sessions of practice in football.

“It’s great to be back out here with all these guys, even if it’s a little warm, said Indian River senior Jacob LaClair, who plays center. “It’s worth it.”

Although denied a complete season, many teams managed to play a schedule of some sort during Fall II season from late March through the end of April.

“It absolutely exciting, it’s great,” Indian River coach Cory Marsell said. “The kids, with as hot as it was out there, still there were working really hard, I know they’re excited.”

“It’s really exciting to get out here for the first time,” Carthage senior Carter Kempney said. “We really haven’t had anything for a while, we had the summer session, but it was cut short. So it’s great to get out here a few months after.”

Indian River went 5-1, with three of its games against north country teams.

“With the modified season last spring, it was a little different, but I’m excited for this fall being back on Friday nights, not Tuesday afternoons or whatever it was,” Indian River senior Gannon Lynch said.

“There’s still a little bit of question in there as to how it’s all going to play out,” Marsell said. “Let’s hope it plays out like the Fall II season did, we ended up having a good year and played every game we were supposed to play.”

Carthage practiced back on its old practice field as new artificial turf is being installed at the school’s stadium field.

“Being outside now is huge,” Coffman said. “We’ve been told that as long as we’re outside and we’re social distancing the best we can, we don’t have to worry about the masks outside. Now (Tuesday) we’re going to practice at Beaver River, we’ll have masks on while on the bus and everywhere until they get off the bus and we’re back outside.”

On Monday, Comets offensive players practiced in white jerseys while the defense took the grass field wearing red.

“It’s just great finally being around our teammates again,” Carthage senior Grayson Jackson said.

Carthage, which advanced all the way to the state title game in Class A in 2019, went 3-1 in the spring.

“It was a short season and we had a really small team because a lot of parents didn’t want their kids doing high-risk sports,” Carthage senior lineman Caleb Ashlaw said. “So we had low numbers, but we made the best of it. We got a lot of skill time in and we had a lot of time to make ourselves better for this year.”

While Carthage awaits its new turf, Indian River practiced at times Monday on its own turf field.

“You work on getting them into shape, getting them in the right spots, getting them to understand where you’re supposed to be and what your job is,” Marsell said.

The Warriors, who compete in the Class A National Division, as does Carthage, earned a degree of revenge from a lopsided loss to Indian River in 2019, by beating the Comets, 58-6, on March 31.

“It was definitely condensed, the practices were different,” Marsell said. “What we found at the time was we had to be better at coaching because we had less time and every team had it that way.”

While Carthage will be young, Indian River has a host of returning players.

“We’ve got quite a few seniors that are going to be around,” Marsell said. “So that’s exciting, they’ve been together for quite a long time. And I think like any team, if you stay healthy and you work hard, you’ve got a shot to be there at the end.”

Carthage had used its original turf field since 2008 for a variety of uses, especially for football, lacrosse and soccer.

“We got new turf and actually the turf just got delivered,” Coffman said. “Just like everything during these COVID times, the transportation of the turf got slowed down, so it was supposed to be done for the first day of practice. Now it looks like we should have it on after Week 3 (Sept. 24-25), so like another month or five weeks.”

Coffman said the new turf actually arrived at the field earlier Monday and workers were preparing for its installation that afternoon.

“It came this morning, it’s pretty neat,” Coffman said.

Because of the delay, Carthage will have to play its first two games at Indian River, first against West Genesee at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 in a Thursday game.

The Comets’ traditional showdown with Indian River, originally scheduled to be played in Carthage on Sept. 24, will now be played in Philadelphia at 7 p.m.

Carthage’s team will christen its new turf when it hosts Fulton at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 as part of homecoming.

“Being back here practicing outside is great, it stinks being on the grass,” Coffman said. “But being able to get the guys together now, our numbers shot right back up once everybody found out we where going to be outside doing stuff without masks, so it feels so good be back out here in August practicing.”

Indian River was to open its season Sept. 3, but opponent Utica Proctor, a Class AA member, chose not to play the game. Instead the Warriors will open at West Genesee at 7 p.m. Sept. 10.

“We’ve got a lot of returners and we’re excited to get back in Section 3 Class A, it looks like it should be a pretty even playing field, but pretty deep as well,” Lynch said. “We’re excited to go compete.”

Among other area schools, South Jefferson will play in Section 3’s B North Division, with General Brown and Lowville competing in the C2 Division, and Beaver River and Sandy Creek both in the D Northwest Division. Watertown will again compete in Section 10.

South Lewis and Thousand Islands will both play eight-man football this year.

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