Not even a sore heel could dampen Pearl River senior Mike O'Connell's enthusiasm when the Pirates held their first practice of the season.
"It's great," said O'Connell, one of the team's three captains. "It's been a long time, it feels like. It never gets old. Once the season is on, we'll be ready to go. Once full pads come, we'll be ready."
That should be next Thursday, but head coach Jeff Michael and his staff put the Pirates through their paces in helmets only Friday, evaluating conditioning and working on skills.
"Not great, but not bad," Michael said of the first day of practice. "Some guys though they were in shape, but were not. Some guys we weren't sure would be in shape surprised us and came in better than we thought. It's a typical first day.
"We have our expectations high. We always expect the kids to exceed expectations."
Expectations outside of Pearl River may be low for the Pirates. They lost 20 of 22 starters and that doesn't include all-state kicker/punter Connor O'Sullivan.
"It doesn't matter if we don't return starters as long as people step up," said senior guard/linebacker Matt Erbacher, another team captain.
Michael expects his team to build on last year's 6-3 season even with the roster turnover. The offensive line is a key question mark. Joe Scanlon and Sean Quinlan are top candidates to join Erbacher up front. Erbacher is the only returning starter. Senior linebacker Eric Corcoran is the only player back from the first unit on defense.
"Our backs, I don't want to say they are set in stone, but we have a good idea who is playing where," Michael said. "Right now it's figuring out who our five linemen are and who's going to give us the most time to throw the ball. The defensive line should be ok. The linebacking corps is going to be solid. The defensive backs are going to be solid. Our offensive line is the biggest question coming in to camp."
Michael mentions protecting the passer because he plans to run a spread offense keyed by junior quarterback Chris Van Houten, who has a deep group of targets that was bolstered by the transfer of Shane Ocasal from Don Bosco Prep.
Pearl River's players started their offseason conditioning work early and went to three 7-on-7 tournaments, most recently 2012 KSA Events National Football Summer 7's in Florida.
"It's definitely improved us," Erbacher said. "I personally feel I improved in passing defense. We went to Florida and played some quality teams and that helps."