Bill Rozak

Football season started Monday for high school teams around the Sac-Joaquin Section and for the first time in over a quarter of a century the Sonora Wildcats did not hold practice at 12:01 a.m.

New California Interscholastic Federation Sac-Joaquin Section rules prohibit teams from practicing twice per day among other things so the Wildcat coaching staff made the decision “that this tradition had to end here.”

The Wildcats normally would practice for an hour starting at 12:01 a.m. and then hold another session in the evening after the sun disappeared behind the Dunlavy Field bleachers. But two practices in the same day are no longer allowed.

The new guidelines do allow football teams to hit the gridiron a week earlier than normal.

“I didn’t like losing the midnight practice, it’s something we’ve done for years and years,” said Wildcat head coach Bryan Craig. “Central Catholic (of Modesto) practiced until 2 a.m. But I didn’t think that would be a productive practice for us, or me as a coach. They’re out in an industrial area and we’re not. We’re right in the middle of a neighborhood. But getting started playing football earlier, can’t be all that bad.”

Football is the only fall sport practicing this week while the others remain in the section sanctioned “dead period” until next Monday.

According to section Bylaw 1903.5, “Five days of acclimation are required before full pads are allowed. … Acclimatization sessions are considered practice, and may include various facets of football training (teaching techniques, chalk talks, pass patterns, calisthenics, etc.. ) but may not include any body contact such as blocking and tackling. Football helmets, football shoes, footballs, blocking sleds/dummies and hand shields can be used during the acclimatization period. Days 3-5, the use of shoulder pads and contact only with blocking sleds/dummies is permitted. The five days of the acclimatization period will be held at the school’s regular practice fields; no workouts will be permitted at beaches, mountain resorts or military sites.”

Sonora senior Kane Rodgers didn’t like to break tradition and was part of a group of Wildcats that tried to organize the team for a non-sanctioned practice to keep alive the long-running tradition.

“There’s a vibe, we’re out here having fun as a team,” Rodgers said of the early morning practice. “We’re putting work in together. We’re being competitive but at the same time we’re having a good time and enjoying ourselves with the coaches. It was a bonding thing for sure. We tried as a team to come out here anyway, but a lot of guys were still away and we couldn’t make it happen.”

By next Monday the Wildcats will be in full pads and heading “full bore” into the season which begins officially when Oakdale comes to Sonora Aug. 25 for each team’s season opener.