This is the first of an occasional series about Roosevelt as it attempts to start over with its football program after Edison Learning took the school over from the Gary School Corporation.
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:29AM
Andre Hill hadn’t considered the idea.
What about having practice at 5:30 a.m.?
“Ah, I’m not sure about that,” the Roosevelt wide receiver said.
Hill needs to get used to novel concepts. Everything is on the table for the Roosevelt football team.
Roosevelt coach Jeff Karras was handed the schedule for his players this week. School begins at 7:30 and ends at 3:30. Mandatory study table lasts until 4:45. That means Karras won’t be able to start until 5:15. His heart dropped when he processed it. Karras doesn’t want to get his guys, worn out, at the end of the day. He’s had early practices before and Karras is serious about winning.
“I almost don’t have a choice,” he said.
Making changes on the fly are all part of the deal for the Panthers, as they attempt to rebuild their program and team brick by brick in a radical football experiment.
Two things are certain: The reconstruction job won’t be easy and Karras couldn’t be more energized by the challenge of taking a down-on-its-luck innercity school that has won just nine games in the last five seasons and turning it around. Karras sincerely wants to be a force for his players, who need the support and discipline that football, if administered in the right way, can provide.
Karras loves the cracked streets and worn out, neglected one-story brick houses that make up Midtown. He lives a short drive away in Miller on the beach. Always has. The new job is a vocation for him —at least for as long it lasts. He has a history of building and bolting.
“I think this is where I’m supposed to be,” he said.
The start-up challenges trickle in unexpectedly, making daily planning a difficult, frustrating chore for a seasoned coach.
The team has spent 20 minutes each practice picking up garbage, filling up six trash bags one day this week with plastic bottles to be recycled, and other junk. Some days, when they return to the field, the litter returns. The trash pick-up is a necessary pride-building exercise.
On Thursday, Karras had a trucking service pick up old lockers for scrap. The money is going to be used for equipment. He doesn’t know what it’s worth — just that the team needs the money badly.
He was disappointed when Lew Wallace had to cancel their scrimmage Friday because the Hornets just weren’t ready to go.
This mish-mash of problems is all normal stuff for football coaches in Gary. It’s all new for Karras.
“We really needed to field that competition,” he said. “I think that’s really a disadvantage for us.”
The necessary alternative wasn’t appealing but it had to do. He brought in officials, and the 21 kids on the team played an intrasquad scrimmage.
The players have picked up on Karras’ intensity and style quickly. He limits practice time on the field to just 90 minutes and his one unbreakable rule is that players always have to have their helmets on and be ready to go.
He said his players are sponges, picking up on schemes and plays quickly. They are starved for the structure and instruction.
“These guys aren’t fat and lazy,” he said. “They pick up on everything. And they can move.”
Off the field, the team has bonded with a trip to Miller Beach and a pizza party. During the days, Karras brings in lunch — usually cold cuts and sandwiches — all out of his own pocket. It’s the only way he knows for sure that his players are eating right — at least once during the day.
He is excited for the season, saying that he’ll put his top 11 guys up against any team. Line play could be an issue early but Karras isn’t worried about it.
“I’m having a ball,” he said. “This is more fun than I’ve had in a long time.”
Said Hill: “It’s a blessing he came out. We hadn’t done anything organized since I’ve been here.”
Hill reluctantly said he’d do the morning practices if he had no choice. He believes the sacrifice will be worth it.
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