Knights vs. Jays

Dominic Struckhoff runs against Washington at the East Central Football Camp.

 Call it the unofficial start to the prep football season.

Yes, the 2014 high school football season doesn’t officially kick-off until August. But if you ask any of the coaches who attended this past weekend’s East Central Football Camp, the season has now arrived.

The East Central Football Camp was held over the weekend at four sites, with Borgia hosting local scrimmages again this year. Other sites are Parkway West, Hermann and Ft. Zumwalt East.

In all, 32 teams participated in this year’s camp, which features full-contact scrimmages. Area teams participating were Washington, Borgia, Union, Pacific, Owensville, Hermann, St. James and Wright City.

The annual football camp is regarded by all of those involved as the unofficial start to the prep football season. Longtime Borgia Coach Dale Gildehaus is one of the organizers of the event.

“This is basically the kick-off for the season,” Gildehaus said. “The kids were excited. This was the eighth year and I honestly thought this was our best one yet. I couldn’t have been more pleased.”

Gildehaus said he liked what he saw out of his Knights.

“This is the best we’ve looked in years,” Gildehaus said. “I thought we ran the ball well and I thought Justin Baylard threw the ball well. Everybody caught the ball well, too. Our line played well and it was a whole team thing. Defensively, we changed defenses and looked good. Overall, I couldn’t have been more pleased. But we can still improve.”

Borgia squared off against O’Fallon Christian, Miller Career and Pacific on Friday. The hosts took on Affton, Pacific and Washington on Saturday.

A large crowd took in the Washington-Borgia scrimmage on Saturday night. It’s safe to say both teams were pumped up for the match-up.

“It was a great atmosphere for those kids on Saturday night,” Gildehaus said. “It’s our Super Bowl here. That was a lot of fun for both teams.”

Washington took on Affton, Berkeley and Union on Friday, before taking on Pacific, Affton and Borgia on Saturday.

Washington Coach Zach Schneider said the camp’s arrival each June gets all those involved thinking about the upcoming high school season.

“This is definitely the beginning of our 2014 season,” Schneider said. “In all reality, this is really the time coaches will find out what type of team they have. Between football activities and strength/speed training, student-athletes can really improve themselves throughout the summer.”

Schneider noted he saw several positives out of his team this past weekend. At the same time, there are definitely things to work on, too.

“We did some good things and we did some things that we will need to improve on to be successful next fall,” he said. I felt we had a pretty successful Friday evening on offense. We were able to move the ball on the ground and through the air, but most importantly we were able to punch the ball in the end zone when we had the opportunity. Defensively we were not very fundamentally sound.”

The Blue Jays were back at it on Saturday.

“Saturday, we improved defensively, but were unable to get off the field when we had opportunities to make stops,” Schneider said. “Offensively, we took several steps backward. We were able to move the ball, but some of our issues from last fall popped up again in poor decision-making and ball security. Not having two of our proven offensive players, Seth Bollmann and Austin Finder (both at Legion baseball), didn’t help. However, I was hoping some individuals would step up and fill those shoes.”

Washington also held its own summer team camp in recent weeks, too.

“Overall, I was very pleased with what we accomplished over the past three weeks,” Schneider said. “We have a lot to build on, we have a lot to fix, but we have a ways to go until we face St. Clair in Week 1.”

Schneider added it’s not yet time for the athletes to concentrate on football alone, though.

“While it’s important to get our work in, I don’t want to dominate our kids’ time,” Schneider said. “I want them to be able to work on other sports, go on vacation, and, in general, just be kids. It’s safe to say student-athletes are stretched very thin during the summer.”

Union and Pacific’s teams also participated at Borgia Friday and Saturday.

A freshman camp was also held on Saturday morning. Gildehaus noted that his team and Washington both have good numbers in their respective freshman classes.

Along with Gildehaus, Jeff Duncan, a former Washington coach now at Parkway West, has also been instrumental in making the camp possible. Duncan noted the camp provides teams a competitive environment at a reasonable cost.

“The camp ran very smooth,” Duncan said. “We had perfect weather this weekend. There were 32 teams spread across four campuses with a little more than 1,500 players participating.”

Like Gildehaus and Schneider, Duncan regards the annual event as the beginning of each season.

“It’s great to get a feel for what your team looks like this early in the summer,” he said. “I like the fact that it allows us to start evaluating our players at each level. We were able to get some quality reps against some very good football teams.”

Gildehaus noted that the camp remains affordable for the local players.

“We only charge $30 per athlete,” he said. “They get three games on Friday and three games on Saturday. Our kids don’t have to travel and they get a meal each day and a T-shirt. We have officials, we have insurance and if you go to a college camp it will cost $200. We love it this way. And this camp only makes our kids better.”

Prep football teams will now turn their attention to 7-on-7 leagues.

And for those who were wondering, official football practices begin on Monday, Aug. 4. The first games will be held on Friday, Aug. 22.