Stars enter another phase with option camp workouts

BNL junior Brye Lewis and the Stars worked on the option game during the annual Tony DeMeo camp.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Option Camp, and some things are optional. Like shoes, for example, as Bedford North Lawrence head coach Steve Weber patrols from drill station to station in bare feet. That’s one way to ensure social distancing.

Some things are not optional. The IHSAA has entered Phase 2 in its return-to-play plan, which allows for contact in practices and workouts, extended practice times. The coronavirus protocols of personal hygiene, six-feet distancing and hand washing are still in place.

Another thing is not optional. The Stars need the work. After months of idle time, with a young team returning, the two days of workouts with option guru coach Tony DeMeo are crucial as BNL plays from behind, making up time and distance as quickly as possible while hurtling toward the start of official practice sessions for the 2020 season on Aug. 3.

The helmets and shoulder pads were a nice touch, another sign of normality in these times of abnormal rules, but there was no tackling, no full-speed, full-anger hitting. Those days are hopefully ahead when Phase 2 ends on Aug. 15. BNL has enough to do now. In Weber’s 8 seasons at the helm, no camp has been more crucial.

BNL senior Ben Cosner protects the football during a ballhandling drill.

”It’s been huge for us, more so this year than any other,” Weber said. “You can definitely see the rust, from sitting. You have to get out in the swing of it.

“We’re really young and inexperienced, and we’ve been sitting for four months doing nothing, for the coaches and kids. It’s just fun to get out here and get together.”

In addition to the partial gear being worn (and the partial footwear being discarded), the camp had all the usual football atmosphere. Coaches barking, teaching. Athletes grunting, questioning. Drill to learn, repeat it, remember it.

BNL’s Grant Dalton snags a pass during a route drill.

What stands out? At first glance, BNL has quality individual talent. At next glance, a lot of passes dropped and lack-of-aggression mistakes made. That’s what camps are for.

“There is some indecision and some kids are holding back,” Weber said. “They have to get more confidence, start going. We have to grow up quick. I don’t mean we’re immature, we’re just really young. Those older guys we have (only 7 seniors) don’t have a lot of experience.”

DeMeo and the BNL staff spent 3 hours in teaching mode. The option is an intricate offense, with a lot of schemes, shifts and on-the-fly adjustments. Weber made the decision to switch to this attack after his first year, and it’s had proven results.

“For the kids here, it fits and gives us the best chance,” Weber said. “It fits well with the kids. It’s definitely paying off.”

Veteran option coach Tony DeMeo issues instructions during the camp at BNL.

The rest of the week will be devoted to junior highs, another vital piece of the overall program. When the Stars reach the high school level, usually with a class of 25-30 freshmen, they’ve already been exposed to the expectations.

Perhaps “exposure” isn’t a good word to use in this COVID-19 time frame. That’s another hurdle the Stars – and everyone else – is facing as the IHSAA continues its push to conduct fall sports. Every day is a new challenge. Area teams have reported issues with positive virus tests and have cut back accordingly. So far, BNL has escaped that part.

“For football people, it’s hard to operate that way,” Weber said. “We do the sport, and you’re a passionate person. You’re vocal, you scream and holler. That’s just how we are. You’ll have some things come up, but our guys are handling it as well as they can.

“We’re trying to be safe, be cautious, we’re wiping down everything, we mention the six feet. The kids are doing all that stuff. But you can’t come out here and go through the motions. You have to do it right.

“It doesn’t add a whole lot to the way we practice, because we’re not out here bashing each other. But it let them know we’re progressing and heading the right direction. God willing, we get there.”

BNL lineman Isaac Jackson works on his blocking technique.