With construction sounds occasionally echoing in the background, the Grand Island Senior High football team took big steps towards putting together what it hopes is another successful season Monday.

Like other fall sports teams across the state, the Islanders held their first practice of the season.

Grand Island went from 4-6:30 p.m. in Memorial Stadium as renovations continued on the west stands.

“It was a really good first day,” coach Jeff Tomlin said. “I thought the kids came ready to go and energy level was good. Retention from summer camps and things was pretty good. I think overall we can cross off the first day and say we made some strides. We’re a little bit better than we were.”

That drive to make continuous improvement will be a focus of the Islanders throughout this first week of practices.

“We want every guy to get 1% better every day and our whole team to get 1% better every day,” Tomlin said. “We’re looking for baby steps in improvement and to get the detail stuff right. Then the big things tend to take care of themselves.”

There are some adjustments for the coaches to make for the team’s first practices. This is a year during which the Nebraska School Activities Association calendar bumped back a week.

Practices started after Grand Island Senior High teachers reported, so there wasn’t an opportunity to hold two-a-days for the first few days unlike in recent years.

“We have a lot less meeting time,” Tomlin said. “That’s where we get spoiled with the years that we’ve had because we’ve got a practice and then three hours of meeting time and film time, then we’ve got practice.

“Now that’s condensed down to about 15 minutes of meeting time a day because you don’t really want to bring a kid in at 4:30 a.m. It really does put a crunch on us and puts us in a bind. But that’s why the summer is so important for us, and our kids did a great job this summer.”

The Islanders look to follow up on the program’s most successful season in 28 years.

Last year’s campaign ended in Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium, where Grand Island played in its first state championship game since 1990 and finished as the Class A runner-up to Omaha Burke.

Tomlin said a season like that can help during the offseason, but he didn’t want it to be the team’s focus over the summer.

“I think it gives you some momentum, but at the same time I encouraged our kids to close the door on it and focus on what’s ahead of us,” he said.

“We can’t look back. We can’t live in the past. This is a brand-new team with brand-new pieces and parts that we’ve got to figure out. It’s a brand-new puzzle where the pieces are all jumbled up, and we’ve got to figure out how to make it work for us this year.”

With a large number of senior starters graduating off of last year’s team, there are plenty of questions for the Islanders to answer before the Aug. 30 season opener at rival Kearney.

But Tomlin said there are already positive signs to see from this year’s group.

“I like how fit we are,” he said. “They worked extremely hard, so they’re coming in I think in very, very good shape. We’re starting to see leaders emerge, which I like. I think it’s a hard-working bunch.

“Some years you are stressing quickness and speed or certain years you’re stressing this team has to get better at tackling. That’s still emerging, and we’ll figure out more once we get pads on with this bunch.”

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