APPLETON — High school football teams gathered for the first day of practice Tuesday and after a long offseason it was good to get back to work.
That especially rings true for Appleton North, which will need to replace 12 starters from last year’s team that reached Level 3 of the playoffs before falling to Hudson.
Coach Rob Salm smiles when he talks about the first day of practice.
"I think it's the best day just because you get to be with your teammates again and they're all assembled,” he said. “When you do the passing leagues and all that stuff in the summer you're never together but when you finally get to come together as a group it's different.
“It's not the same as the team the year before, so you kind of get a good feel for your new teammates and kind of what's going to happen this year. That's just the fun part that goes with being part of the team.”
Ethan Danz led North last season with 1,279 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He will be counted on to lead an offense with four returning starters, and he’s looking forward to the season.
“At Appleton North we sort of have a target on our back,” Danz said. “We're a decent program year-in and year-out, so you always feel like you got a lot to live up to but you always trust teammates, you trust your team, you trust your coaches and the entire staff that we'll always pull through and find something; a lot of excitement."
North (10-2 last season) opens its season at home against Fond du Lac, and Salm believes the Cardinals will challenge for the Valley Football Association South Division. He said that game will be a good indicator if his team once again will challenge Kimberly for the VFA North title.
“You don’t want to rebuild, you want to reload, but there’s so much work to be done,” Salm said. “We’re just focusing on our first game.”
North felt it should’ve at least reached Level 4 of the Division 1 playoffs last season. In Level 3 against Hudson, North appeared to score a touchdown as time expired but it was ruled the runner was down short of the goal line.
North lost 20-14, so this season Danz is looking to make up for that loss.
"I know every one of the seniors wants to win a state title,” he said. “We haven't done that in our career yet here at Appleton North and we want to make that happen."
State is a long way from today, however. Salm is just looking forward to see what type of team he has.
"There's always that unknown factor that's kind of exciting, to kind of figure out what your team is going to be this year,” Salm said. “Just want to make it the best team you can so whatever it is, you figure it out and you go after it."
Lightning opens season Aug. 22 at home against Fond du Lac. … North’s homecoming game is Sept. 27 against Kimberly. … Three of its first four games are at home and three of its last five are on the road.
Aug 22 — Fond du Lac
Aug 29 — at Oshkosh West
Sep 5 — D.C. Everest
Sep 12 — Kaukauna
Sep 19 — at Wausau West
Sep 26 — Kimberly
Oct 3 — Appleton West
Oct 10 — at Appleton East
Oct 17 — at Wausau East
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay