COCHRANTON — Picture yourself as a young bunny rabbit, just chilling in the grass, living your peaceful bunny life.
And then one night the field that you live in is suddenly illuminated by a bunch of lights in the sky, some sirens start blaring, and then a bunch of big humans all dressed in red emerge out of machine-created fog and start slamming into each other.
You’d probably react like the startled little fur ball that went skittering across the Cochranton High School football field and got involved in the player introductions as the Cardinals football team once again opened up preseason camp with a midnight practice session early Monday morning.
The bunny eventually got out of there OK — it was shooed off the field by a couple of Cochranton cheerleaders. And the Cardinal fans and coaches then got their first good look at the 2019 gridiron gang in action.
“We have so many new kids,” said Cochranton head coach Joel Murray. “We’re just trying to get them in and get some looks at them. Because this is like the first time that we can really find out what they’re all about. Because everybody can look good without pads on.”
The Cochranton faithful were also able to see the team go to work, as the public was invited to attend. Those fans also heard chants from the Cardinal cheerleaders/bunny wranglers; got the “Star Spangled Banner” from the Cochranton band; got some midnight snacks at the concession stand; and were the first fans in this part of the state to bask in the stadium lights.
“It’s always fun to be out here on the game field, under the lights, hitting each other,” said Cochranton senior receiver/corner back Andrew McDonough. “There’s nothing better.”
It could have been better for senior Austin Salsberry, however.
He wasn’t able to participate in his final midnight practice, having suffered a knee injury that will force him to miss most of the season.
“I’m hoping to be back the last one or two games,” he said. “I had to get a total ACL replacement.”
However, he still got to make the scene, hobbling out for the player introductions with a brace on his leg.
“Oh, I’ve been here every night since I’ve been able to walk,” he said. “Just because one of us is hurt doesn’t mean we’re not going to come out here and support our brothers and be a fan.”
Even with a couple early injuries in the ranks, the Cardinals were able to dress nearly 30 players for the first practice, which was a welcome number for coach Murray and company.
“It’s great news, because we graduated 14,” he said. “We only had 11 players coming back that played last year.”
Cochranton picked up quite a few new players that didn’t come out for the team last year.
“Now we got seven players in each grade — 28 total,” said Murray. “I guess that’s about par for the course, from talking with other coaches.”
They began the event on Sunday evening, gathering at the school for dinner and a team hang-out.
“(Sunday) was great,” said Murray. “These guys were really excited because it was new to a lot of them.”
After stretching and player introductions, the practice session started with live Oklahoma drills — handoffs, blocking, tackling. Then they went into running plays as a team with the first-squad offense and the scout defense.
It’s not a typical start for a practice. But the Cardinals had an audience on this night.
“We showed them a drill and we went right into team so they could see their kid play,” said Murray. “We usually start with (individual position drills), but that wouldn’t be great for the people watching. So we ran some team, which usually we’d do last.”
After delivering the first intra-squad licks of the season, the Cardinals were scheduled to wrap things up around 2:30 a.m., and then head back into the gym for a sleep over.
“I give them eight hours (of sleep),” said Murray. “‘OK guys, it’s 3 a.m. You have eight hours.’ I get them up at 11. We have brunch, and then we’ll be back out by 1 (p.m.).”
Hopefully, by then, the rabbit had calmed down.