Only the first game of the season can top the opening day of practice in terms of excitement for Grand Island Senior High football coach Mark Fritch.
That's why Fritch was so enthusiastic when he made his Islander coaching debut on Monday.
"This is the second-most favorite day of the year,” Fritch said. "The first one is the first game. This is a great day. I'm excited.”
That excitement could be felt throughout the state, as practice began for seven sports. Besides football, athletes involved in volleyball, cross country, softball, golf, tennis and gymnastics conducted the first of many practices.
Fritch was hired last February to revive a Grand Island program that has fallen on hard times as of late. Ever since the former coach at Neola-Tri Center High School in Neola, Iowa, was named to replace Greg Uhrmacher, he could hardly wait to get started.
"I've been excited ever since I got the job,” Fritch said. "I've been looking forward to this day for quite a while.”
The 29-year-old Fritch spent part of his first practice shouting words of encouragement while watching his offense. The Islanders spent a considerable amount of time working on a passing game that will likely be directed by Casey Samuelson, a returning starter at quarterback.
"I think it's going pretty good,” said Grand Island fullback-linebacker Kyle Hemje. "Everybody is working pretty hard. We're helping each other out.
"We're working as a team making sure everyone is getting set and ready to go.”
Hemje said he and his teammates have encountered few problems while adjusting to Fritch's system. Fritch, a Palmyra native, moved to Grand Island over the summer so he could conduct a football camp and oversee a weight program.
"The offense is a little different and we're doing a new defense,” Hemje said. "But everybody is adjusting to it real well. I think we'll be all right.”
Fritch said his coaching staff is a big help.
"I have a great coaching staff. They do a great job,” Fritch said. "I just pretty much turn them loose.
"I know they're going to do a great job on their own, so I don't have too many things to worry about.”
Fritch compiled a 12-6 record during a two-year coaching stint at Neola-Tri Center, a Class C-1 sized school. The former four-year starter at Peru State College beat out a deep pool of applicants that included Jeff Ashby to get the job.
Ashby, who is now at Harvard, spent last season as a Grand Island assistant. Though names of the other finalist weren't released, Ashby said they included Milford coach Marty Hingst and an assistant coach from Concordia College in Seward.
"I got some pretty talented kids in this senior class,” Fritch said. "We don't have as much size as we'd like to see. But we'll play the cards we're dealt with. And we'll give it all we can.”
Fritch's team is spending the first week of the season practicing twice a day. At Grand Island Central Catholic, coach Scott Rezac is putting his Crusaders through three workouts a day.
"At first I thought it was going to be kind of tough,” said GICC receiver Nate Wilson. "But the more I thought about it I thought it would be better.”
One of GICC's practices is held in the morning. The other two are evening workouts.
"We think three times a day will be easier,” Wilson said. "We're going to get conditioning out of the way in the morning. Then we're going to work on offense and defense in the evening. It will be all right.”
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