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Vandals hit the ground running in first full week of two-a-days

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By Seth Whitehead

The Vandalia football team's M.O. has been a lot like the weather during the first full week of two-a-day preseason practices - much cooler than it was a year ago today.

"They're real loose," said Vandals coach John Stout of this year's group. "The seniors we had last year were an emotional group. These guys are more business-like. They're not a rah-rah group."

But that doesn't mean that the Vandals are taking the success of back-to-back playoff appearances for granted.

Despite the laid-back tone set by a group of 16 talented seniors, the Vandals are as determined as their predecessors to continue the program's recent success by making a third-straight playoff appearance for the first time in school history.

The Vandals proved that this summer by setting a new standard for dedication with their offseason program.

"I think two years ago, we set the bar pretty high, and last year's group picked up on that," Stout said. "... This group may have taken it up a notch."

Those are strong words, considering Stout referred to last year's seniors as "the hardest working group" he's ever coached.

The class of 2008 is doing everything in its power to earn the same praise.

"We asked a little bit more of them this summer," Stout said. "In the past, we did football stuff one day a week in the summer. This year, we did three days a week for 45 minutes a day."

That work ethic - along with pleasant temperatures in the low-to mid-80s, compared to last year's 95-degree heat - has allowed Vandalia to hit the ground running during the first week of two-a-days.

"We've been able to be more advanced when we started two-a-days, and that's led to more up-tempo practices and quicker practices," Stout said. "We've been able to cram three sessions in a day so far instead of two."

It also helps that the current group of Vandal seniors has been buoyed by consistent success.

The group lost just one game as freshmen and put together an undefeated season at the JV level as sophomores.

Some of this year's seniors got playing time during the Vandals' playoff game at Mascoutah that year, and most of them contributed to last year's playoff run as juniors.

"There's that feeling that they're supposed to win - that it's something they are supposed to do," Stout said. "They have the confidence they're going to go out and get it done. That's the big difference I've seen (compared to his past teams)."

That said, the team is anxious to get the season started.

The closest the team has gotten to game action since last year's first-round playoff loss to West Frankfort was last month's 7-on-7 competition at East Peoria and Lincoln.

The Vandals enjoyed going head-to-head with several playoff caliber teams at both sites in what Stout referred to as "controlled scrimmages."

"I thought our kids responded really well," Stout said. "We were able to run our offensive and defensive skills both of those weekends against some teams we don't normally see."

The Vandals will open the 2008 season against another team it's not used to seeing next Friday when it hosts Sangamon Valley.

Stout will have roughly a week to set his varsity roster, choosing from a list of 66 players that includes the aforementioned 16 seniors, 11 juniors, 16 sophomores and 23 freshmen.

Note: A full Vandals season preview will run in next week's annual fall sports preview section.