Chips kick off season under the lights

Manistee football players go through blocking drills early Monday morning at Chippewa Field. (Matt Wenzel/News Advocate)

MANISTEE — At exactly midnight — as Sunday turned to Monday — a stampede could be heard approaching in the darkness.

In a matter of seconds, the sound of 54 cleats connecting with gravel and then concrete materialized under the lights of Chippewa Field as one team emerged. Manistee got started as early as possible this season, and not a moment too soon.

“I’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” said Manistee senior Jack Hybza. “It’s about time we got out here.”

The Manistee girls basketball team has started at midnight before, but this was the first year the football team took the field under the lights for the season-opening practice, which lasted until 1:10 a.m.

“The midnight practice thing is different,” said Manistee junior Mason Swidorski. “It took a couple minutes to wake up. It’s pretty late — I’d be in bed right now.”

It was just one part of the experience dubbed Camp Chippewa, in which the entire Manistee team is camping behind the high school from Sunday to Thursday.

“I don’t really think it gives us that much of a jump,” Manistee coach Gus Kapolka said of the opening practice. “I don’t know how much you can get in in an hour at one o’clock in the morning. But, I wanted us to come together as a team. I wanted them to have a shared experience to go through something maybe that they weren’t sure they could go through before and have that experience with their teammates and have them come closer together.”

The first day of practice can sometimes be a struggle with everyone getting back into the flow of football, but the Chippewas had a good turnout at offseason activities and their skills camp.

“We’ve been at it all summer with weight lifting and conditioning, so we’re used to it,” Swidorski said.

The Chippewas also benefited from easing into the season under benign conditions. Instead of getting started under a warm midday sun, they enjoyed cool temperatures with a breeze as the shouts and whistles of coaches echoed far off in the dark.

“It’s great,” Kapolka said of the setting. “You get underneath the lights and I think that gets your blood pumping a little bit. It’s something different. I’m pleased with the kickoff and we’ll see how the next four days go.”

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