FERNDALE - Even on a "light" day, there's a whole lot of hitting going on in Ferndale these days during football practice.
The pop of pads, followed by enthusiastic cheers from the Golden Eagles coaching staff and teammates repeatedly echo around the north end of the school property.
"It's been really up-tempo, and there is more energy this year," senior lineman Cameron Ivy said. "We're going to try to hit people hard. We need to get off the ball and let people know we know business."
That attitude, no doubt, is one that starts with the team's seniors.
"We're all encouraging each other and pushing each other to be better," senior running back Richmond Baardson said. "Everybody gets on everybody, and nobody gets their feelings hurt. We're all just trying to get better together. ... We're focusing on doing the little things and trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves."
While the seniors set the tone, it's certainly not the only reason practices have seemed extra crisp and intense so far this summer.
There's also the motivation of earning the right to play on Friday night.
Ferndale returns only five to six starters on each side of the ball off last year's team, meaning there are plenty of starting positions and key reserve spots up for grabs and likely to go to the players that show the coaching staff just how bad they want it.
"We're replacing a lot of players, and there are so many people in the mix right now," senior running back Alex Conley said. "Everybody is going as hard as they can to keep themselves in the mix and prove that they deserve to start."
With such an inexperienced team, coach Jamie Plenkovich said the focus of camp, besides deciding on a starting lineup, has been to teach the fundamentals.
"We had a real veteran group back last year that, initially, you feel like you can go a little quicker with," Plenkovich said. "This is an inexperienced group that we want to make sure we get our fundamentals and all the little things down that are going to help make us successful."
Being successful is obviously at the heart of every player that straps on a yellow helmet at Ferndale.
And while the team did rebound from a difficult start to finish 5-5 and qualify for the district playoffs in 2011, the Golden Eagles failed to advance to the Class 3A state playoffs for the first time since 2002.
That's obviously something the team wants to turn around right now.
"We're coming together," Baardson said. "We've got some really good athletes. Now it's just up to us to play football the way it's supposed to be played at Ferndale - hard-nosed and aggressive."
That's especially important this year, considering Ferndale does not have the physical size that it's had in past seasons.
"We may not be as big as we have been, but we're not letting that bother us," Ivy said. "We're just playing tougher. It's you're a smaller team, that just means you have to make up for it by being hard-nosed and trying to hit harder."
While they've certainly been doing that so far in practice, Ferndale hopes to really release its hard-nosed attitude when it hosts Vancouver (B.C.) Notre Dame on Aug. 31.
"Everybody has been going 100 percent, and we need to keep it up," Conley said. "We're getting on guys that don't give 100 percent. We're coming out like sharks, and that's great to see."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2271.
This is the ninth in a series of reports from the 11 Whatcom County high school football reports during preseason practices. Look for The Bellingham Herald's special 2012 Northwest Conference football preview section in the Aug. 31 paper.
Next up: Lynden
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.