Eau Claire (WQOW) -- High school football practice kicks off on Tuesday, with both Eau Claire Memorial and Eau Claire North holding morning practices.
For a second straight season, the Old Abes have a new head coach. Former Mondovi head man Mike Sinz takes over for the Steve Crutchley, who left to return to coaching at the college level. For the Memorial senior class, it's the third head coach in the last three seasons, but Sinz says he likes his team's overall depth, as well as its senior leadership.
"I think we have over 100 kids in the program, 9 through 12," Sinz says, "and our seniors have been just so important, in the offseason, as far as the weight training and just getting kids involved in 7-on-7, and captains practices, they've been unbelievable, they could have said, you know, three coaches in three years, and you know, whatever, but the leadership here has been awesome."
The Memorial senior class includes Wisconsin Badgers recruit Cormac Sampson, a versatile athlete, as well as a returning quarterback in Keagan Calchera.
"We have four or five kids back that are returning starters on O and D," says Sinz, "we've got a kid that's going to Wisconsin and a couple D-II type kids, but we have to build a team, you know, all eleven, we have to make sure that our entire starting 11 on O, D, special teams is as strong as we can get them."
"We've had three different coaches in three years, and that's made us a lot stronger as leaders, up top," says Calchera, "and we just emphasize the fact that it doesn't matter who's coaching, it comes down to who's going to lead you on your team."
The Old Abes kick off their season on Friday, August 18, when Memorial will travel to La Crosse Logan.
Eau Claire North was going through a coaching transition at this time last year, when Dave Decker took over the Huskies program. North went winless in 2016, but despite that, Decker likes the enthusiasm of his group heading into a new season, and he promises that the Huskies will compete every single week.
"Numbers could always be better as always, but I'll tell you what, this energy is high intensity, kids are flying around right now, they're having fun," Decker says, "it's great to be out here, it's August 1st, the start of the high school football season. I couldn't be happier, more energized, more excited to get this season going. Last year I didn't even know their names coming in, and now this year, obviously I've gotten to know them quite a bit. I know their strengths, I know their weaknesses and I know the community better. This is really going to be fun, it's really going to be exciting, and I can't wait to watch them play."
There are about forty players at North's practice on Tuesday, and Decker hopes that number grows to around fifty by the time the season starts. Injuries were an issue for the Huskies last year, and prior to today, some more injuries have occurred, so Decker has had to put some guys in new roles.
"We've got some injuries to key personnel," Decker says, "but these guys are hungry, so we'll see how it shakes out, competition is always good at any position and so we'll see what happens, a little behind the 8-ball, but that's all right."
One of those injuries was to returning quarterback Ryan Venne, so Tyler Greenlund will move to that position from his normal running back spot.
"I've played a little QB, like, 7-on-7 in the summer," Greenlund says, "just at least throwing the ball a little bit with some of our quarterbacks being gone for baseball and stuff, but I was able to get there and throw the ball around a little bit. It was a surprise not having Venne here this year but I think Decker's been putting a lot of stuff together for me to be ready for this year."
North begins its season on Friday, August 18, when the Huskies head to La Crosse Central.