Another midnight kickoff to season for Bonner-Prendergast

UPPER DARBY >> As Bonner-Prendergast coach Greg “Bubba” Bernhardt convened the first official huddle of the 2015 season, he double-checked his watch and began with a simple declaration.

Under the moonless sky on Lansdowne Avenue as Sunday night bled into Monday morning, Bernhardt informed his team of a fact they already knew, that he hoped his players would take immense pride in. In the state of Pennsylvania, the Friars were first — on the field, in dedication and devotion, and maybe in plenty more categories down the winding road of the season.

“I got chills when Bub said it,” quarterback Shaun Douglas said.

That kind of reaction is exactly what Bernhardt sought to evoke when he instituted midnight madness practices in 2013, starting Bonner-Prendie’s season with a buzz that few schools rival. While the novelty for the community may have waned — the crowd of students isn’t what it once was, and the crowd of 50 or so spectators for the first hour consisted mostly of parents and family — Bernhardt’s intended effect on players remains palpable.

Just ask Douglas, a senior transfer from Interboro who experienced his first midnight practice Monday. Such a gimmick is a tangible way Bernhardt can point to offering players something different. Douglas’ perspective illustrates how unique it is.

“I’ve waited all day for this,” Douglas said. “I told a lot of the players that. I was so psyched to be out here tonight. I’ve never had a midnight madness experience.

“At Interboro, you wake up at 8 o’clock in the morning. Here, we’re out 12 o’clock in the morning, the first team in Pennsylvania to take the field. It feels great.”

The midnight session generates excitement, but it’s not just a sideshow for spectacle’s sake. That point was reinforced as Bernhardt put his players through their paces for two hours Monday as bats flitted after insects around the light stanchions surrounding Bonner’s turf.

That session was just part of the day’s activities, which began late Sunday evening with a series of team meetings, a barbeque with families and all the necessary logistical housekeeping before the open of camp. The first session kicked off at 12:01, capitalizing on the earliest allowable start for a fall sport (save for girls tennis), according to the PIAA’s calendar.

But there was more to the itinerary than a chance to circumvent bedtimes and play football in the cool night air. The Friars headed inside for meetings and team bonding at 2 a.m., then hit the turf for the second installment of the traditional two-a-day at around 3:45.

“Coming in here, you’re basically here all day,” defensive back Ryan George said. “We come together in the locker room, get situated for the upcoming season.”

The night practices carry obvious benefits for the prestige of a program hoping to entice new members out, but the squad also reaps very practical advantages from the endeavor. It’s not just avoiding the heat of the afternoon, a particularly pronounced edge given this week’s forecast. There’s also the sense of throwing players into unfamiliar surroundings, hoping to break down and reform stronger connections.

Then there’s the obvious demand accompanying the alteration of players’ normal schedules. To be physically prepared to start training camp is daunting. To deliver the requisite readiness at a time when bodies are accustomed to sleeping requires a level of mental and physical self-control that pays translates through the season. And to reset the biological clocks to gear up for an afternoon practice Tuesday, 36 hours after their midnight excursion, tests the regimentation of Bernhardt’s charges.

“I think it makes us more disciplined because at 4 o’clock in the morning, we’re all going to be exhausted, not want to be out here,” All-Delco lineman Lou Lombardo said. “It makes us think about it more, makes us more disciplined.”

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