ONALASKA — The Aquinas High School football team played its final offensive game Wednesday and raced to the north end of the Onalaska Training Field tucked away in a neighborhood east of the high school.
Thirty minutes remained in the third of four joint training sessions between the teams this week, and the biggest benefits of this summer collaboration were about to be revealed.
The Hilltoppers offense lined up against the Blugolds defense in a varsity game in a field, and junior varsity mirrored this setup where Aquinas previously played as a team.
Offensive linemen from both teams gathered in a shaded area near a full line of trees and worked drills. Coaches set up at each station, and there were only a handful of players left to engage only mentally and not physically at any given minute.
Oh, and Aquin’s trainer Tom Lee loved another aspect.
“(Tom) Yashinsky, man,” he said with a smile as he walked to the college field and pointed to Onalaska’s coach. “That’s why we are here. We are here for the drone.
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After Yashinsky positioned the drone above college action, he began calling plays and shuttled between two teams of players on and off the field. Quarterbacks Adam Skifton and Aiden Summerfield took turns throwing passes. Lee encouraged and moved defensive players.
The Blugolds closed with their attack on the first two days before the teams swapped roles for the final two sessions.
“We don’t have to worry about a scout defense or a scout attack,” Yashinsky said. “Kids get a lot of reps, and they know the temperature and level of intensity that we’re going for.”
The teams wear helmets but no pads, and the clear objective is to work on what they deem important for the upcoming 2022 season without the pressure of making any statement to an opponent.
The Hilltoppers have posted six straight winning seasons in the MVC with a 29-7 record during that span. The Blugolds won a WIAA Division 5 state championship last season.
Each team has a lot to learn about themselves as they try to perform against the other as August 2 approaches – the first day of practice. Players will resume their own training and coaches will fine-tune everything important until then.
Lee said the summer has been big for Aquinas as he continues a working relationship with strength and conditioning coach Eddie Hodges and new speed coach Dillon Martinez.
“We had a really good summer in our weight room,” he said. “We have (the Aquin students) up on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on Wednesdays we go to our pitch and do about 40 minutes of speed. Thursdays is back to lifting, then everyone takes Friday, Saturday, Sunday to go play basketball and baseball and fish.
Yashinsky said the fact that he and Lee set up the training structure before trying this for the first time last summer helped this one go really well. Practices became an idea that coaches discussed once Aquin left the MVC and eliminated the regular season game that had taken place years before.
“We’re not going to see them for live action, so it works out well,” Yashinsky said. “It’s great to have someone you can relate to and do this kind of work.
“It only took us half an hour last year to figure out what it was going to be like. This year it was like, yeah, the same thing. We have the space to accommodate it, so that walking.
But the competitive side of things can never completely go away, and that was proven when junior college finished before college. The coaches soon organized a series of tug of war matches between players of the same classes.
Aquin’s college players were quick to rush to the competition site to cheer on their teammates. Yashinsky had gathered his college players to discuss training, but also sent them off to cheer on their teammates before ending that discussion afterwards.
Onalaska won the final game with both teams cheering in the middle of the practice field.
It was a great way to end a great summer day for a group of coaches and players eager to embark on a new season.
“I don’t have golf clubs and I don’t have a fishing rod,” Lee said. “It’s what I do for fun and what our coaches do for fun, and it’s been a good time.”
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX