It's about accountability. It's about cultivating a competitive edge prior to competition. It's about reinforcing relationships with teammates to make a team one instead of one hundred individuals.
The Ponderosa High School football strength and conditioning trainer Patrick Nolan started the team's off-season with a new approach -- a new strategy that's made them closer as a team.
Prior to summer workouts getting underway, the Mustangs were separated into six teams by way of a draft. The squad's six senior captains picked a dozen players with the goal of leading them week-by-week in various categories.
“You get points by attendance, you get points by group gatherings, you get points by community service [and] you get points by winning competitions on Fridays," Ponderosa senior and team captain Sterling Ostdahl said.
The teams served multiple purposes. For one, it allowed players to get to know their teammates in other grades. All of the teams were made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors.
“We’re learning to work together a bit more than we have in previous years because instead of just seniors knowing each other and juniors knowing each other, it’s more mixed. It’s just recreating the culture of Ponderosa," senior Mason Knighton said.
Because it was a new system, there was a learning curve. Some of the captains found out the hard way, they needed their dozen players to balance out in strength, speed and awareness.
"At first I was just looking for speed, because speed wins things," senior Jaren Whitehead said. "I wasn't thinking about strength, and in the end, it kind of screwed me over because we did tug-o-war a couple of weeks back and it did not go good. We got destroyed."
Coach Nolan also incorporated competitions on Fridays that are more than physical but mental.
“Most of [the challenges] have been physical, but we have done a mental one where you do some sprints and then have to find a word in a word search and go back to your team," senior Quinton Ostdahl said. "[It goes] on for 20 minutes, and whoever has the most words at the end won the competition.”
The team has experienced the conventional ups and downs that any football team has faced during the season and the off-season. This new format is making changes that will push the team past the difficulties they've had in the past, one of which includes summer training attendance.
The team has had almost perfect attendance since the new summer training format according to the captains, and the competitions are an added bonus to the satisfaction of getting faster and stronger.
"It's non-stop competitive," senior Max Bruner said. "We're just non-stop, I mean, that's what football is. We're a super fast-paced offense so we're go, go, go all the time in practice and in the weight room. Our expectations are super high for this year."
The Mustangs are working to get past the second round of playoffs, which they have yet to do in their past three post-season appearances despite being close.
"We're attacking every aspect for football," senior Chris Shaw said. "Every Tuesday, we're conditioning very hard. Every day, except for Wednesday and weekends we're working out for two, two-and-a-half hours, and then hitting the field for routes and just extra stuff kids actually want to focus on for their specific position."
Ponderosa football is becoming stronger as a whole. The irony of splitting their team into smaller ones is that they've become closer together.
"Everyone has a chance to bond and get to know each other," Whitehead said. "When I was a freshman, I didn’t know any of the seniors, so I like that the younger kids have a chance to know the older kids. [It] just makes the team bond better.”
Each week improvements made, points tallied up, competitions complete, the winning team earns the boxing bell. The tangible trophy that comes with bragging rights following a hard week of work to one of the six teams.
Although the bell is proof of their hard work, the true prize is a state championship ring after the 2017-18 season.
Ponderosa opens their season against rival Legend High School September 1.
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