Rifle Bears come out of hibernation early for football practice
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
RIFLE — There’s not too many times when parents will embrace the idea of their teenager staying out far past midnight. That wasn’t a problem at all on Monday.
And all of the kids who stayed out late embraced it too.
“Are you kidding?” Rifle High School senior Austin Shepard said. “We get to stay out this late and our parents want us to be here. It’s definitely a good way to stay out past curfew.”
Such was the case for the Rifle High football team, which for the third consecutive season began its season at the earliest hour possible. The Bears took the field at Bears Stadium at 12:01 a.m. on Monday — the first possible minute allowed by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) for high school teams other than boys golf to begin practice.
“I think the thing is that as of 1:30 a.m., we had already done more work than anyone else in the state had up to that point,” Rifle coach Damon Wells said. “But the most important thing is that with teenage boys, getting them up to be at a 6 a.m. practice is a lot more difficult.”
Still, there were some light-hearted outlooks of the practice start time. Rifle senior running back Brock Clark readily admitted Monday that he took a two-hour nap beforehand, getting up at 11 p.m. so he could make it to practice as scheduled.
Everyone at the practice embraced it, though, just as they did when Rifle began the annual ritual prior to the 2012 season. Wells said any idea similar to the one the coaching staff had to start practice this early — or late, depending on the point of view — is run by the players and the player’s parents.
And the player’s parents have embraced it enough that they lined up their vehicles in the Bears Stadium parking lot, watching practice from tailgates and the front seats of their cars and trucks. Some parents even took to the stands, with one bringing a cowbell as a noisemaker.
“I really didn’t think he was serious when he told us that,” said Denise Burts, whose son, freshman Christopher Burts, was participating in his first midnight-esque practice. “But it really does make sense because he sleeps until noon anyway.”
Non-traditional first football practices aren’t uncommon. Some prep football teams bring their sleeping bags to the school and camp out on the football field, then roll up the sleeping bags at sunrise prior to hitting the field for the team’s first practice of the season. The “Midnight Madness” theme is also common amongst some college basketball programs, which typically fill their respective gyms with fans for a 12:01 a.m. practice on the first day the NCAA allows it.
That played a part in the idea for the Rifle Bears to start that, along with the recent emphasis across the country that has been put on practicing during a cooler time of the day. No one participating in — or watching — Monday morning’s late practice seemed to mind the time it took place.
“I begged him to let me come watch him,” said Whitney Vance, who was watching her kid brother, sophomore Blaine Vance, take part in his first football practice at Rifle High School. “I love watching my little brother play football, and something like this gets me so excited and pumped up for the season to start.”
Monday marked the start of high school football practice two-a-day practices around Colorado. The more traditional schedule consists of an early morning practice, followed by an early evening practice, throughout the first week. CHSAA requires that student-athletes must complete nine practices prior to their first interscholastic contest which, for Rifle, will take place against Moffat County at Bears Stadium at 7 p.m. on Aug. 22.
The practice session early Monday morning gave the Bears — the three-time defending Class 3A Western Slope League champions — a jump start on the rest of the state.
“The way we figure it,” Wells joked, “they shouldn’t be doing anything else at midnight anyway. Why not practice?”
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Former Rifle Bears standout turned starting running back for Western Colorado University Ty Leyba remembers it like it was yesterday.