Things are different at South Side football practices these days.
The hits, harder. The passes, crisper. The reads, on the money. The steps are just a little more precise and the grass is a whole lot greener.
This is the other side of last season. And last season, an 0-8 season, finally is over after a seemingly endless winter. There were lessons to be learned and things to be taken from a fall without glory, and it’s something that no one surrounding the program wants to repeat.
“It was a very humbling experience,” senior running back and defensive back Johnny Pickett said. “You have to learn to move on and work on the next play, next quarter, and next drive.”
Forgetting 0-8 began almost as soon as last year’s book closed. Knowing a change was necessary, the Cyclones looked at their off-season practices and pledged to start erasing the past right away.
“After the season, all of the rising seniors got together and made sure everyone was showing up to workouts, going to the 7-on7s,” wide receiver and defensive back Joe LiCalzi said. “We have come in this season with a lot of good work put in.”
LiCalzi continued: “We have a lot of hard working guys. Last year, there wasn’t a lot of work put in before [camp]. This year, everyone really put in the work in the offseason.”
So far in training camp, dividends are being seen with lively practices and a more focused atmosphere.
“I like the mood,” Pickett said. “Everyone is into it and flying around. We’re having a good time with what we are doing.”
Changing the results means changing the culture and that’s what South Side is trying to do. So much of last year, LiCalzi said, was a result of low expectations entering games. For the final tally to change, the mindset has to as well.
“Last year, the mentality was ‘let’s hang with a team.‘ Not ‘let’s beat a team,’” he said. “This year, I’m definitely trying to change that mentality.”
“Coaches have been re-enforcing enthusiasm throughout practice,” LiCalzi continued. “That really is important - getting up and excited in practice.”
More often than not, South Side will move the ball on the ground, with Pickett hoping to average five yards per carry.
“The offensive line will do what they have to do and I’ll just follow them,” he said.
Coach Phil Onesto said the Cyclones will be strong on both the defensive line and in the secondary, with junior lineman Tygah Scott making a name for himself at both defensive end and defensive tackle.
“He’s an All-County caliber player,” Onesto said.
As each practice day winds down and the schedule winds up to the first week of the season, the 10th-seeded Cyclones are just focused on getting that goose egg off their ledger.
”It’s been in the back of all of our minds, just getting that first win and having that first ‘W’ under our belt. It’ll feel great,” Pickett said.
And that day can’t come soon enough.