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Football campers get early start

Austin Freeberg (above) concentrates on the ball while participating on a drill for receivers at the Waupaca football team’s camp at Comet Field. More than 60 players showed up for the camp, which started July 16. Greg Seubert Photo

Comets to field three teams

By Greg Seubert

Whether Waupaca High School’s football team can qualify for the WIAA playoffs for a third straight season remains to be seen, but Bennett Hansen believes he has the Comets headed in the right direction.

Hansen is entering his fourth season as varsity coach and is at the school this week overseeing the team’s annual summer camp at Comet Field, which includes five contact days.

“I think they’re really important,” he said. “We’ve always used them as a start for the install of what we’re going to do. I know other coaches will sometimes work on more fundamental stuff. We have 15 of 22 starters back, so it’s time to hit the ground running.”

The Comets are coming off of a 3-7 record that included a 3-3 mark in the Bay Conference and a second straight trip to the WIAA playoffs.

The camp opened July 16 with 65 players.

“We’re hoping for 80 or 90 this year,” Hansen said. “We should have three levels of varsity, JV1 and JV2.”

The Comets haven’t had three teams for five or six years, he said.

“It’s huge,” he said. “The guys get more reps and get to play more. Football’s a game you can’t replicate during the offseason, so the reps during the season are crucial. Instead of guys waiting to play, they play every game.”

The camp gives incoming freshmen a taste of high school football.

“I think it’s a nice, soft acclimation to the speed of how we practice,” Hansen said. “We move pretty quick from segment to segment. You have to get your water while you’re listening and still pay attention. It gets them acclimated to the speed of the game.”

Linemen work on their blocking skills at a football camp at Waupaca High School. Greg Seubert Photo

Hansen hopes playoff appearances in 2021 and 2022 give the Comets some momentum heading into the upcoming season, which will kick off Friday, Aug. 18, with a nonconference game at Freedom.

“We have 11 offensive linemen that we think could play,” he said. “We’re also bringing back three starters on the offensive line. We’ve never had that kind of depth. There’s going to be some competition and that’s what I want to see. I want to see them compete and fight for a spot.”

The camp wraps up Thursday, July 20, and Hansen hopes to have some questions answered by then.

“Who’s all in?” he said. “Who’s going to show up early and put in the extra work? When you’re explaining something, who are the guys that are looking you in the eye? What’s the commitment level? Who can we rely on?”

Besides Waupaca, the Bay Conference also includes New London, Seymour, Shawano, Xavier and Winneconne.

That means four of the Comets’ nine regular-season games are nonconference games against North Eastern Conference teams.

“We beat Shawano last year, but then Shawano beat Winneconne and Winneconne beat us,” Hansen said. “That’s the way it’s been the last three years. Everybody’s the same size. We’ve been close in a lot of our games even if we’ve lost. If we won, it’s not by much. Every week’s a battle.”

After nonconference games against Freedom, Wrightstown, Denmark and Little Chute, the Comets will open conference play Friday, Sept. 15, at Shawano.

“This will be my fourth year, so these seniors were freshmen when I started,” he said. “A lot of them have been lifting (weights). You’ll see that we’re stronger than we’ve ever been. If you can get them to commit to the hard work, the grind and the development, that’ll pay dividends. That’s something I learned at Amherst. That program’s built in the weight room.”

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