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Conditioning week tests high school football teams

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional captain Mike O’Connell works on a drill at practice last week.

Photos by Dominick Reuter for The Boston Globe

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional captain Mike O’Connell works on a drill at practice last week.

The sweet aroma of fresh-cut grass was hanging in the air at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School on Tuesday, following a riding mower as it rumbled across a field.

But in one corner of the complex, the sound of the mower was punctuated by football coach Tom Lopez’s whistle, and the smell of grass replaced by the salty odor of sweat, signaling that the dog days of summer are winding down, and the fall football season is just beginning.

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More than 80 members of the Warriors football squad were finishing up a set of sprints. As they crossed the 40-yard line, a few out-of-breath athletes put their hands on their hips, crinkled their noses, and looked skyward.

Across the state, conditioning week marks the first set of official practices for football teams, a physically demanding stretch with running and agility drills galore.

According to Lincoln-Sudbury senior captain Mike O’Connell, the best way to conquer the grueling week is to prepare beforehand.

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“It’s key to already be in shape, especially for this,” said the 6-foot-4, 255-pound tackle. “If you get conditioning going early on in the summer, it makes this week much easier, much more enjoyable.”

O’Connell and the squad’s other three senior captains — Jack Hubley, Eric Jones, and Otto Zaccardo — led unofficial workouts this summer, hoping to get their teammates in shape while building chemistry.

‘Until we get our pads on, it’s just a grind. But we tried our best over the summer to stay in shape, so this isn’t a complete shock to the body.’

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About 15 to 20 guys would show up to the school’s fitness center at 6:30 a.m., four days a week. The captains would also hold practices an average of two days per week on the turf, drawing 20 to 30 players.

Jones, a returning Dual County League all-star, said the weight-room and practice sessions are vital in forming a connection with teammates.

“I would say it’s more important before the season, because once it starts, everyone just wants to get to playing football on the field,” the 6-foot safety, running back, and receiver said of the bonding process.

“If you’re getting together before the season, when you come on the field everyone already knows each other better, and because of that, you play a lot better,” he said.

Their coach, entering his 37th year at the helm, is proud of the way his veterans take the initiative each summer.

“The seniors basically lead the way; they’ve done it all before,” said Lopez, whose squad finished 7-4 last fall.

“They knew exactly what they had to do, and they came back in very good shape, and everyone else — the sophomores and the juniors — more or less follow along with what they’re doing.”

At Newton North High, the senior captains are also no strangers to the grind of conditioning week, and as a result they participated in a 7-on-7 league, hit the weights, and ran summer practices.

“It’s very important to stay in shape, because if you are, you can get to doing stuff right away, like going over plays, instead of worrying about getting everybody in shape,” said Curtis Beatrice, a linebacker and wideout who shares the role with Andrew DeNucci, Chris Quinn, and Devaughn White.

Added DeNucci, a linebacker who took advantage of his family’s boxing gym in the offseason, “Until we get our pads on, it’s just a grind. But we tried our best over the summer to stay in shape, so this isn’t a complete shock to the body.”

Luckily for kids in the area, heat and humidity were not big issues in their first week back on the field, as temperatures hovered around the mid-70s, compared with the unbearable conditions of some summers.

Newton North coach Peter Capodilupo, whose team went 5-6 last year, knows severe weather can hit at any point, and he makes sure his players and coaches are aware and cautious.

“We have kids bring their own water, and they can get it anytime they want,” said the 31-year head coach. “We also have water on the sideline, we have a running hose that kids can use. . . . We’re very conscious of dehydration.”

Not like the old days, Capodilupo recalled.

“I can remember when I was playing a thousand years ago, a lot of coaches had a mentality of sacrifice, being able to endure hardships,’’ he said. “I remember going through practice having two or three sips of water and they give you a couple of salt pills. No one knew the damage that could be done at that time. They thought it was a sign of being tough; I’m just amazed that people survived it.”

Another group surviving admirably through the first week of practice was the Franklin High squad. Coach Brad Sidwell said roughly 85 players in grades 10-12 participated in conditioning drills, along with 50 freshmen.

His kids spent the summer participating in a 7-on-7 league and a local summer football camp, and working with strength and conditioning coach Liane Blyn.

“She’s been getting them ready in terms of getting their overall strength and power ready to roll, and conditioning them as well,” said Sidwell, who also serves as the school’s athletic director.

The Panthers graduated 27 players from last year’s squad, which went 5-6. They have three returning starters, and will be led by captains Colton Cardinal, Chris Jenkins, Andrew Parent, Brian Sugrue, and Daevon Weathers.

“Right now, we’re just trying to get them all ready,” said Sidwell. “Most of them have been working hard, and they’re physically ready to go.”

And now, entering the second week of practice, the teams can shift their focus to getting ready for the first game of the season.

On Sept. 5, Franklin will host New Bedford, and Lincoln-Sudbury will head down to Somerset. Newton North will open the following week, hosting Waltham on Sept. 13.

Let the countdown begin.

Taylor C. Snow can be reached at taylorcsnow@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcsnow.
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