LUMBERTON — As the Lumberton football team was introduced one by one at Alton G. Brooks Stadium right before midnight on Friday, there were few of the bells and whistles that normally accompany the Pirates under the lights. There were no flags flying, no logo in the center of the field, no new entrance tunnel to run out of.
But there were plenty of fans.
Several hundred showed up to cheer the Pirates at the school’s Midnight Madness event. At the stroke of midnight on Saturday, just three hours after the conclusion of the team’s first official practice of the fall, the team took the field again, starting with special teams drills and eventually moved into 11-on-11 non-contact scrimmages.
“The fans looked excited to see a new season,” said Lumberton coach Mike Setzer. “They went through a tough season last year but there were a lot of high fives, a lot of smiles, a lot of well wishes, so that was the highlight.”
The varsity team took up the majority of the stadium while the freshman and jayvee teams drilled in a small area on the east side of the field. Fans filled the stands and lined up along the stadium’s fences as the varsity cheer team yelled chants and booths around the stadium offered pictures, temporary tattoos and t-shirts.
It was a new experience for Lumberton quarterback Auston Foley.
“I’ve never even been to one. I wish we had done it last year,” he said. “”It did kind of have the game feel.”
The two practices were the first in several days for the Pirates and Setzer made the team run heavily for the late Thursday session and focused more on fundamentals in the late session, with Foley running the offense.
There were mixed results, with the secondary stopping Foley on multiple occasions and the lines struggling with both offsides and false starts.
Setzer credited part of that to the “stage fright” of being under the lights and in front of a crowd, something he hopes the practice got out of his team’s system.
“I like that we can come out under the lights and make some mistakes early,” he said. “I like making mistakes early. If we’re going to make mistakes, make them early so they don’t happen later in the year.”
Smooth sailing for St. Pauls
St. Pauls also started their practices out Friday night, with a small crowd gathering to watch their 7 p.m. practice before the team regrouped for a midnight practice under the lights.
Coach Trey Sasser said the kids get more excited when the official practices begin.
“For whatever reason, if you tell them it’s the first official day, they’re a little more excited, so they were ready to go,” Sasser said. “Now there’s a goal of making so many days until we scrimmage and after we scrimmage we have a game the following week.”
Sasser said this year, the process for early practices went smoother than last year.
“We had guys just falling into place, knowing their roles,” he said. “We’ve had good turnout this summer in our preseason workouts so their just falling right into what we’ve been doing. We had a lot installed in the summer and it carried over to tonight and it makes the first day a lot easier.”
Quarterback Cody McKenna is one of the players the team will be relying on, and he is excited to show what he can do now that things are moving forward.
“I feel I can take the team far and do good things,” he said. “My recievers have come a long way since the beginning of the season.”
McKenna says the team has a good chemistry in the early going.
“We connect together real good already,” he said, “so that comes together on the football field and will make us a better team.”
The team had a meal in between Friday’s practices, and Sasser said that is an important part in building their chemistry even more.
“I think its very important to have activities where they’re doing things as a team,” Sasser said. “Anything they can do together, it helps.”
Wide receiver Tim Billinger said for him, it was just good to get back out with a different pace from the summers 7-on-7 scrimmagess.
“We get to hit now,” he said. “There’s contact. 7-on-7 there’s no contact, and that’s not fun.
“It was fun being out there with the team again to start the new season. We’re developing, getting better, learning new plays, and coming a long way from last year.”
For McKenna, the new aspect of contact is bringing a new aspect to the game for him to work on.
“It’s a different games speed. It’s a whole different playing field out there when you get into contact and everybody is coming after you.”