Football practice hasn’t even started, but the decibel level inside Bishop Gorman’s Fertitta Field is approaching that of a small rock concert.
No, this isn’t your ordinary high school football practice.
Gorman coach Tony Sanchez didn’t invent the wheel. The Gaels do many of the same drills as every other high school program. They spend time working on their offensive and defensive game plans like everyone else. But the Gaels do it at a pace and with an intensity that few high school programs can match.
And that’s part of the reason Gorman has emerged, not just as a local power but as a team respected nationally. The Gaels are ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today entering their season opener against Phoenix’s Brophy Prep in the Sollenberger Classic at 7 p.m. today at Gorman.
“We’ve always felt practice has got to be so darned intense, you’ve got to be so focused and you’ve got to really be on your guys about doing everything right, and then you’ve got to practice at such a fast pace that literally, Friday nights are like, ‘Wow, this is a breeze,’” Sanchez said.
At 2:31 p.m. a horn sounds and a computerized voice announces “Activity one, agilities.”
The Gaels use clocks in the corners of the field to count down the time remaining in any one activity during the two-hour practice, which is broken down into 12 periods.
No period runs for more than 15 minutes, and most are five to 10. Sanchez said keeping the intervals short and changing things up often helps keep the players engaged.
“I think coaches are teachers, and I spent a lot of years in the classroom,” Sanchez said. “When you’re doing the same thing over and over, it gets really monotonous. Do we need to do the same things? Absolutely, but we can also change the pace.”
Pace is one thing a Gorman football practice has plenty of.
During one of the first periods of practice, the offense works on its no-huddle offense with no defense. Quarterback Danny Hong looks to Sanchez to get the play, calls it at the line of scrimmage and off they go. Even with no defense, the team moves at nearly full speed. Substitutes hustle on and off the field as though the play clock was running, and every few minutes, the reserves hit the field to get their reps.
“I mean, it goes fast,” Sanchez said. “The amount of plays we run, we’ll get over 100 snaps in practice in our different pods. Our whole thing is we want to create a tough atmosphere in practice. We want games to be almost a step back from the intensity of practice.”
Senior defensive end Ryan Garrett echoes that sentiment.
“It’s always intense,” Garrett said. “(It’s) a fast-paced practice, hustle to the ball.
“We want to make practice harder than the games. If we always run to the ball, we’re going to make tackles and no one’s going to get yards on us.”
One of the most intense people on the field is Sanchez. He’s not shy about getting into the face of a player to point out a mistake or offer criticism. It doesn’t matter if it’s a starter or a reserve. Or even if the family’s name is on the stadium.
“Terrible, Nicco,” Sanchez yells at senior safety Nicco Fertitta during the team’s first defensive session.
“We want them to understand that there’s a sense of urgency,” Sanchez said. “It’s not OK to make that bad decision. It’s not OK to step the wrong way. You’ve got to be so focused on doing everything right that it just becomes muscle memory and everything clicks on a Friday.”
Sanchez has plenty of assistant coaches, but he is still front-and-center for most of the team’s drills. When the kickoff coverage unit takes the field, Sanchez sprints down the field with the players on the first kick.
“I’ve always felt like kids are going to reflect you,” Sanchez said. “Everyone does it different, but I just feel like, God, if I’m running around and I’m flying around with energy, whether it’s positive or negative, just going a million miles an hour, the kids are going to do the same thing.
“It’s not just me. Our coaches do it. They’re all engaged, and they’re all into it. It’s a two-hour grind for everybody. There’s nobody, from coaches to kids, walking to drills.”
Along with the pace comes organization. Gorman’s practices are scripted down to the smallest detail.
Want to know where the offensive linemen will be at 2:44 p.m.? Check the script.
Want to know what the third play of the team’s 7-on-7 drill will be? Check the script.
Will there be music playing during team offense? Check the script.
“To us, it’s not OK to come out with a yellow pad and some ideas,” Sanchez said. “You’ve got to have it planned out. When the kids know it’s planned out and they know what you’re doing is organized, you practice faster, you don’t waste time and the kids also know that, man, there’s a dedication and an organization that you’re putting into it.
“It’s an orchestra, and what you’re doing is you’re writing your symphony, supposedly, for that Friday night.”
The music on the field serves a dual purpose. It creates a buzz and energy on the field that helps maintain the intensity.
“First of all, everybody loves music,” Sanchez said. “The kids love music, the coaches love music. If you notice, there’s country going; that’s my stuff. Then there’s hip-hop, and that’s their stuff.”
But the music isn’t just there to get everyone moving.
“The biggest thing the music is actually just training for the noise of the crowd,” senior offensive lineman Ethan Palelei said. “It’s not really for enjoyment, it’s to prepare you for not being able to hear.”
Palelei said he thinks the way the team practices gives it an advantage come game time.
“I was always told that practice didn’t make perfect,” Palelei said. “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4587. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters.