The first day of school at Minot High isn't for another two weeks, but Magic City Campus was full of life Wednesday morning as the football team reported for its first practice of the 2014 season.
The Magicians have 16 practices before participating in Minot State Scrimmage Day on Aug. 22. Minot's first six practices are non-contact sessions as the North Dakota High School Athletic Association prohibits contact drills in the opening three days of the preseason.
With 24 players lost to graduation, coach Barry Holmen is using the early practices to see who will step up and assume a leadership role. That position isn't just open to this year's seniors.
Minot High junior quarterback Ben Bolinske throws a pass during practice Wednesday at Magic City Campus.
"We graduated last year's leaders, so a big focus of this year is seeing who our new leaders are - freshmen all the way up," Holmen said. "We preach that kids have to help us develop some chemistry. You won't be very successful unless your team likes each other and gets along. Big focus early is teach basic football and learn to be teammates."
Holmen is in his 10th year at the helm and wasted little time getting the first practice into full swing. After addressing the team for a short time, players reported to their respective position coaches. Linemen worked on their blocking technique, defensive backs and running backs focused on their footwork and the wide receivers familiarized themselves with their routes.
As for junior quarterback Ben Bolinske, he worked on his throwing mechanics during a short game of catch with his head coach. Bolinske took over signal-calling duties after Alex Yanosko tore his ACL in the first half of Minot's season opener against West Fargo.
"We're all just happy to be back out here playing some football," Bolinske said. "We've all been working hard all summer and it's just about time football starts. We're all excited."
The Magicians open their season at West Fargo on Aug. 29, but they aren't preparing for the Packers just yet. They're more concerned about themselves right now.
"We know all our opponents and we get all their game film from last year," Holmen said. "It's just a matter of when it's focus time, you get focused. But you take care of yourself."
Most of Minot's key returners are on defense. The Magicians return four starting linebackers and two defensive linemen. Among the four linebackers returning is senior Garrett Picard. Minot's defense pitched four shutouts last season.
"We've been working hard all spring and all summer and I think it will be a good year," Picard said. "We're getting back into the swing of things. With the new guys, we're helping them learn the formations and the basic things."
The Magicians will continue their two-a-days today and tomorrow - a morning session at 9 a.m. and an afternoon session at 3 p.m. - before their first full-pad practice Saturday morning.
Pads or no pads, the emphasis is on fundamentals.
"We're trying to teach them to be safe in terms of blocking and tackling," Holmen said. "Football is blocking and tackling. Sometimes you get to throw and catch, but it's running into each other safely. We want to be a physical team."
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics and general assignments. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft24_MDN.