Sunday, August 23, 2009

Training camp report: Rensselaer High

Tyler Bishop participates in a conditioning drill at Rensselaer High School during the first week of practice. (Photos by Mike McMahon - The Record).

During a recent practice, the Rensselaer Rams settled in for one of head coach Joel Preston's favorite drills - four quarters.

Captains condense in the center of the group and the rest of the team circles around them, with Preston barking out instructions. Jumping jacks! Situps! Pushups! The players flop around, switching between the exercises after a long day of practice in the sun.

Preston blows the whistle, giving them a respite, but that was only the end of the first quarter.

By the time the third quarter rolls around, Preston has the team playing an imaginary game as their jumping jacks become a bit slower between repetitions, the situps accomplished with immense effort. Down by 10 points in the third quarter, the Rams somehow rally late in the fourth with an inspired set of pushups to score and convert the two-point conversion, stealing a win.

The make-believe game aside, it was Preston's halftime speech about the 2008 club that got through to the winded Rams: Two games short of the Carrier Dome. One game short of Kingston. But right here, in a conditioning drill in the middle of August, we're putting ourselves in position for those fourth quarters in November.

--
The Rams return nearly all their starters from 2008 and the newcomers and junior varsity callups had a very productive offseason. With the Super Bowl charm rubbing off on everyone in the school district a season ago, winter and spring workouts had an unusual intensity about them, exemplified by Tyler Bishop and his might physique.

Bishop didn't play much in 2008, but Preston said he can't imagine a linebacking corps without him this season. It presents a number of playing time problems for Preston, but those are problems he likes to have.

"We have a lot of strong guys on the team," Bishop said. "My weightlifting coach pushes us hard and that’s why we came in third in the weightlifting competition. It's all about good technique and stuff. I’ve had to make myself stronger."

The Rams placed third in the Columbia High School liftoff in the spring, finishing behind only Troy High and Lansingburgh, two much larger schools just up the Hudson River.

But with the level of returning talent the Rams have, anything short of a first place finish - another Class D Super Bowl win - would be a major disappointment.

Rensselaer lineman Jason Brown (foreground, right) has become one of the Rams' best players after struggling through conditioning drills early in the 2008 training camp.

Read all about Brown and his inspiring personal struggles on and off the gridiron in our 48-page high school football preview section that hits the newsstands on Thursday, September 3.

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