NOOKSACK - If not for the helmets, shoulder pads and game-like pace Nooksack Valley coach Robb Myhre attempted to instill, it would have been tough to tell if it was football practice or a comedy show.
One liners were tossed about with the same regularity as passes - between teammates, between players and coaches, amongst the coaches, even between the team and onlookers.
"It's just a lot of fun out there playing ball with friends," junior receiver/linebacker Curtis Handy said. "We're really looking forward to this year."
And who can blame them?
It's actually fun to go to practice - even two-days.
"Practice is a blast," junior Leni Halaapiapi said. "It's just who we are, but when game day comes, we know how to be serious, too."
That understanding is the product of being a year older and a year wiser.
While Nooksack Valley is still young with a relatively small - in number - senior class, the Pioneers have a group of juniors that have come up together and got to play key roles last year. This season, they will form the core of the team.
"Our class, most of that group is going to be playing varsity, and we've been playing together for a number of years now," junior quarterback Tanner Myhre said. "I think we'll be more in sync, and we'll feel more comfortable yelling at each other - just making each other more focused when we need to be focused."
Being a leader is something Myhre said he, in particular, has worked on during the offseason.
"I want to be able to get guys more committed," he said. "Getting them stronger and coming closer - we've got to build a good team, and that starts with the leaders."
Myhre said he's already sensed more closeness among this group, compared to last year when the team went 7-3 and narrowly missed the playoffs when the Pioneers were the odd team out in a Kansas tie-breaker with Meridian and Blaine.
"We didn't like the taste of defeat last year," Myhre said. "We felt like we went down last year, and that was not fun. ... We need to be more confident this year. The first game is going to mean a lot. That's going to build a lot of confidence if we can go in there and win it."
The Pioneers currently are scheduled to play the first game on Civic Stadium's new Sprinturf surface against Sehome at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7.
Despite the jovial atmosphere in practice, the Pioneers said they put in a lot of hard work to prepare for that season opener and what figures to be a tight Northwest Conference 1A race.
"We've had a lot of work in the offseason getting in the weight room and getting stronger," Handy said. "We've really focused on getting bigger and stronger on the field and working as a team."
If Monday's practice session is any indication, Nooksack certainly appears to be coming together nicely.
"I think we're a lot closer this year," Halaapiapi said. "Last year, I felt we were spread apart, in terms of the age difference with all the classes. This year, we all get along really well."
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
FOOTBALL CAMP UPDATES
This is the seventh of 11 preseason looks at the high school football programs in Whatcom County. Look for the 2013 season preview in the Sept. 6 edition of The Bellingham Herald.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.