Lower Merion, Harriton face challenges in early practices

For the Lower Merion and Harriton High School football squads, the first week of football practice has made for some interesting challenges.

First, the Aces and Rams each earned one Central League victory last fall – LM defeated Harriton, and the Rams beat Penncrest – so there’s the challenge to improve in 2015.

The second challenge is that both teams have suffered from relatively light player turnouts the last few years.

But Lower Merion has reason to be encouraged this fall. LM had close to 60 youths show up on Monday (compared to about 35 players for the first day of practice last year).

LM head football head coach Bryan Scopelliti said, “We have a big freshman class that’s come out – more than 25 of them.”

Because of the increased freshman turnout this fall, Lower Merion will be fielding a freshman football team for the first time in several years. The decision to have a frosh football team was officially made Monday, but according to Scopelliti, “we knew by the end of July, the beginning of August, that we had enough [players].”

While Harriton had a somewhat smaller player turnout (in the high 40s) Monday, the figure included 16 freshmen. Harriton head coach Justin Mellor, starting his third year at the helm of the Rams, is hopeful that the flow of promising freshmen continues.

The third challenge of the first week of football practice was beating the heat – Monday and Tuesday featured temperatures in the 90s with high humidity, plus a sun that beat down on the players relentlessly.

Lower Merion planned to beat the heat by having most of its conditioning exercises (which included plenty of running) in the morning session, which lasted from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. After a break for lunch, the players worked on fundamentals like blocking and tackling in the afternoon session from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Harriton’s Mellor said, “The biggest challenge of the first couple of days is trying to get the kids up to a certain tempo while wearing gear. We try to condition the kids during practice, keeping the drills at a [good] tempo. We try to create the idea of mental toughness, that you can overcome [adversity].”

Harriton alternates its defense/offense practice between the morning and afternoon sessions of the first week of practice. The morning session runs from 9-11 a.m., the afternoon practice from 2-4:30 p.m.

“During the first week, the offense is more of a challenge to put together than the defense,” said Mellor. “There are more parts to fit together with the offense, whereas on defense, if you have a willingness to get to the ball, things [on defense] will tend to [come together].”

While Harriton won only one game last year (compared to two for Lower Merion), the Rams lost four games in the last minute during the 2014 season.

“We’ve got to learn to finish the games,” said Mellor.

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