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Waffles and football.

The recipe is one that second-year Whitnall football coach John Quinlan expects will foster a tightness for a squad that has serious promise in 2017. The Falcons, with a bevy of All-Conference returnees included, didn't waste a minute hitting the practice field when the WIAA's official first date for teams to begin football practice rolled around Aug. 1.

For the second year in a row, the team participated in a "midnight madness" that featured a workout, some breakfast, team bonding and, finally, more football.

"I'm not saying someone hasn't done it before somewhere; I just kind of got the idea from the basketball stuff," Quinlan said, referring to the Midnight Madness of college basketball season when teams hit the floor for an exhibition on the first night of practice permitted by the NCAA. "I thought it would be something a little different. Being the first year last year (with me as head coach), I thought it would be something to give a little spark to the program."

 

At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday morning, the Falcons came through the tunnel at the football stadium and spent an hour and a half on the field for the first practice of the year, with all four classes participating. The players then spent the night in sleeping bags within the school's hallways. Wake-up time came at 8:30 a.m., when the coaches served the players breakfast items donated by families in the program.

"There's an immediate bonding when you spend about 12 to 14 hours together, sharing breakfast, watching movies, stuff like that," Quinlan said. "They kind of get a kick out of the coaches serving them breakfast; they like that part of it."

Once breakfast is over, the players practice for another hour and a half. By the time they return home at noon Tuesday, they've already had two practices before most squads have finished one.

"(The younger classes) get to know the kids a little better, some of the upper guys that would otherwise be practicing separately," Quinlan said. "They see some of the traditions going on and see how some of the seniors do it."

Whitnall finished 2-4 in the Woodland East (3-6 overall) after a chaotic year. Quinlan was a very late hire after Jared McGranahan left to take a coaching position elsewhere, and the longtime Whitnall wrestling and assistant football coach was dealt a number of challenges early.

"We expected a lot of offense based on Andrew Mallmann," Quinlan said, referring to a running back who ran for more than 1,400 yards as a sophomore and was expected to play quarterback in the system as a junior last year. "Then, he goes down in the first game of the year, so it put a damper on things. We made it more running-back oriented. Marcus Arteaga comes in and scores four or five touchdowns for us and then he goes down. We had to move a wide receiver to quarterback, so it was without a doubt a struggle the last three to four games, offensively."

That receiver, Jacob Flores, still threw for more than 1,200 yards, and as a silver lining, he's back this year and will return to the quarterback position. Mallmann is healthy and moving back to running back.

"(Last year) wasn't fair to Jake, moving from receiver to quarterback, and three of our five offensive linemen last year hadn't played in two years," Quinlan said. "One kid had focused on basketball and two were out the previous year with injury. It was just a mix together that never really got fluid."

Thanks in part to the early kickoff to the 2017 football season, this year's mix could look very different. Nine players who earned All-Conference accolades of some kind last year are back.

"For the most part, we have 10 starters back on offense," Quinlan said. "I've been on and off coaching football here at Whitnall, but I really think this group has done more than I've seen in a long time. I think we're way ahead of last year as far as the whole offensive concepts and defensive concepts. We're a lot more on the same page."
 

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