A new season begins

Monday marked the first official day of high school football practice in Michigan.

For the Alpena High School football team, it marked the beginning of a new chapter in the program as Brian Tippman begins his first season as Alpena’s new head coach.

Tippman, who played for Alpena from 1986-87, said he never could’ve imagined leading the program he played for nearly 30 years ago.

“It’s funny, life leads you different ways,” Tippman said. “I played for Tom Atkinson back in 1986 and if someone would have told me I was going to be the head football coach back then, I probably would have taken a second look.”

Regardless of what happened in past years, teams like the Wildcats hit the practice fields with a renewed sense of optimism for the upcoming season. Tippman said Alpena has around 35 varsity players and they’ve been working hard in the offseason, bulking up in the weight room, improving their conditioning and trying to master technique.

Alpena and other schools around the state won’t be able to practice in full pads or have full contact until Friday per a new Michigan High School Athletic Association rule designed to eliminate heat stroke. That means the bulk of practices this week will be dedicated to mastering football basics so teams like Alpena can hit the ground running when it comes time to install the playbook.

“It’s important because if we get everything down now, we don’t have to worry about making sure everyone’s in the right spot later on,” senior linebacker Brad Styma said. “We can work on being physical and it’ll be a lot easier later on.”

Tippman and his coaching staff worked with various position groups on Monday to perfect technique. One of Tippman’s drills with Alpena’s linemen focused on paying attention to when the ball is snapped rather than movement of an opponent. Another focused on proper tackling techinique with an emphasis on positioning of the hands to slip past an opponent.

“Obviously the first week is always important because the kids don’t have pads on and so you could very easily get lured to sleep. it’s really where we’re going to set the basics: putting in our basic offense, putting in our basic defense and again, if you don’t know where you’re supposed to be, but you’ve got 10 guys in the right spot but one isn’t, that can lead to bad things,” Tippman said.

Alpena doesn’t play its first game until Aug. 28 when it hosts Escanaba, but the Wildcats are approaching these first days of practice with a lot to prove. Alpena has won just one game in each of the last three seasons and players are anxious for the program to turn a corner.

“We’ve been working on perfection. That’s our goal. We may not be the biggest or the strongest team, but if we run everything perfect, we’ll definitely be able to compete,” senior tight end Josh Bell said. “Teams won’t be expecting us to play as well as I think we’re going to play. We definitely have a chip on our shoulder and we’re going to come out and show them that Alpena means big business in the Big North.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.