To the knowledge of the Indiana Varsity Scout, no team takes advantage of all 40 practice opportunities, but there are programs that account for at least 30 days of pro-pad practice. Also, multiple camps that are available to individual players and more team camps are springing up around the state. Saturday 7 on 7's are held at multiple campuses throughout the summer.
It is not uncharacteristic to go to the summer practices and see players utilizing blocking sleds and tackling dummies for blocking drills. The only thing not seen is tackling. I can make a great case for the improvement of Indiana high school football based on years of summer participation in pro pads. But we are also starting to see some conferences becoming extremely competitive in football. Last year the USA today ranked Indiana's Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (MIC) as the second best football conference in the nation (Best Leagues in Football, Coast to Coast, USA Today, November 6th, 2008).
One of the reason (as stipulated in the article) is that Indiana has some big schools with enrollments from 3,500 to 4,500 fielding some superior teams that easily have 200 players from freshman to seniors. Now other conferences in Indiana with super enrollment schools are beginning to emerge with growing football programs and competition is beginning to heat up. In the eyes of some coaches, these conferences are beginning to match up with the MIC.
The basic problem with a school that has an enrollment of 2,500 or better is getting athletes out for football. If you can develop a quality program with a student pool of up to 2,000 potential football players, getting them out and keeping them out requires a coach who can develop players and communicate his vision. It takes a special coach to be able to teach and communicate to 200 football players. The leap in Indiana is simple. The coaching has gotten much better.
Conference Indiana Breakout in 2008
There was a breakout of two teams in Conference Indiana that surprised several experts who may have written it off as a fluke. All eyes are on Southport and Lawrence Central, and there has been some steady improvement with Bloomington North over the last few years. Southport and Lawrence Central raised some eyebrows in 2008 and enter into 2009 with expectations that the improvement was permanent.
One of the negative facts is that not one Conference Indiana team won an IHSAA championship (no sectional champions). But if you followed the conference during the regular season, there was plenty of thrills and surprises. Conference Indiana won outside its conference, sporting a 15 and 11 record against non-conference games.
Derek Moyers, head football coach at Pike HS, tells his players and staff, "There is no out-coaching anyone in Conference Indiana anymore." That certainly is one of the foundations for a great leap to better football. Better coaching in Conference Indiana is helping to elevate each team's game. Bill Peebles, head coach at Southport, concurs that coaching is much better. "Every week we face a team that is fundamentally sound and has a solid philosophy when it comes to offense, defense and special teams," Peebles told Indiana Varsity Scout.
Jason West, head coach at Lawrence Central, concurred that the summer rules in place in Indiana certainly have helped raise the quality of play. "We go five days a week! On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we lift and condition from 8-10:30, and Thursday we practice on the field from 5-8. We attended 4 SOS tournaments even though we have been a running team traditionally, we wanted to get better at our weaknesses. These times are a little ridiculous, but we know what we are facing and made the choice to try and out work everyone."
Drew Wood, head coach at Bloomington South, told IVS, "Conference Indiana is very competitive week in and week out. The past 5 years as the head coach of Bloomington South, I have seen some very talented football teams in our conference." Bloomington North's Offensive Coordinator, Danny Tieken, says, "As an offensive coordinator, I know that each week I am going to face some of the best prepared defenses in Indiana. Great coaches exist in this conference." Every coach spread the same message.
The success of this conference and its rise is due to 3 basic factors. 1) The quality of coaching has improved from top to bottom. 2) The summer rules have allowed more time to concentrate on the fundamentals of football, and 3) players have developed and become committed to the program. Stronger traditions are being built and the attitude to get better or get beaten certainly is apparent.
The fundamental improvement of Indiana HS football can be modeled in the improvement of Conference Indiana. The first week of Conference Indiana games will feature some great matchups. They begin August 21st and here is the schedule of opponents.