FERNDALE - The expected popping of pads, grunts of exertion and coaches' whistles were joined by the unfamiliar sounds of 1980s power rock ballads coming from a boom box at the south end of football practice fields at Ferndale High School on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
"We're pretty big on tradition here at Ferndale, and this is not tradition," senior running back/linebacker Brady Bauthues said. "It's a big difference. ... I love it. It can help you relax and fly around and be a lot more loose when you play."
Golden Eagles coach Jamie Plenkovich said he's also found music, played at reasonable decibels, can help his team focus more on the task at hand and bring more energy to practice during the "dog days" of the preseason, though he did catch some heat for his choice of country music earlier in the week when three or four straight Taylor Swift songs played in a row.
"Some of us like country; some of us don't," senior running back/defensive back Anthony Fleck joked. "Some of us are farm boys; some of us aren't."
Though a number of colleges, including the University of Oregon, have started using music in practice, Ferndale found the benefits of the tunes before they even stepped outside this summer.
"We started off maxing out in the weight room," senior quarterback/defensive back Cooper Clark said. "We had the music going, and the guys were screaming and pushing each other, and people beat their maxes by 20 pounds. That really brought us together. There's a good feeling of brotherhood on this team. There's a sense of family that really makes us good."
And like any good family, there's nothing wrong with a little friendly sibling rivalry, as younger brothers fight for their place at the table, or in this case, for playing time on Friday nights.
Another tradition at Ferndale is to have juniors and seniors wear blue practice jerseys, while sophomores wear yellow.
It doesn't take long to notice that there are a number of yellow jerseys working their way in with the first- and second-team offenses and defenses.
"The sophomores, I'll be honest, they kick our butts," Clark said. "There are definitely some stud athletes out there. I think they can stop us as sophomores. They just need to gain a little confidence. They're already showing the coaches everything they can do. They hit us in the mouth pretty good. It's good for our offense, and it's good for our defense to have a sense of going against a varsity defense or a varsity offense."
The sophomores end up pushing the upper classmen for their spots, making not only themselves better, but also their teammates.
"It's huge for some of the older guys," Bauthues said. "The spots aren't set for them, either, and the younger guys are working their way in. The harder they work, the harder the older guys have to work to keep their spots. It makes everybody better."
And the Golden Eagles believe that competition is bringing them closer together - something that could bode well for the team.
Clark pointed out that two seasons ago Ferndale was blessed with some of the biggest and most talented athletes it had seen in years, but team chemistry kept it from advancing to the state playoffs. Last year, with a smaller, less experienced team, Ferndale went 9-2, advanced to the Class 3A State Playoffs and gave eventual state champion Bellevue its stiffest postseason challenge.
With the right chemistry this year, Ferndale feels it can do more of the same, in spite of a relatively young team that is on the smaller side.
"I think we need to believe we can do it and play together as a team," Fleck said. "We've got the talent. We need to get guys to step up in key positions. If we keep our head up, no matter what, I think we can put it all together and be in playoff contention again."
That quest begins on Friday, Sept. 6, when the Golden Eagles host Blaine.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
FOOTBALL CAMP UPDATES
This is the 10th of 11 preseason looks at the high school football programs in Whatcom County. Look for the 2013 season preview in the Friday, Sept. 6, edition of The Bellingham Herald.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.