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Avoiding injuries a key factor in summer practice

Preseason routines and conditioning have changed dramatically over the years

Lake Oswego head coach Steve Coury, top, and Lakeridge coach Elvis Akpla navigate keeping their players healthy while preparing them for competition in a small window. VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego head coach Steve Coury, top, and Lakeridge coach Elvis Akpla navigate keeping their players healthy while preparing them for competition in a small window. Football practices are underway across the state, including at Lake Oswego and Lakeridge High Schools. Player safety has never been more on the forefront of minds, prompting changes into how the annual hot-summer drills and daily doubles are operated.

At Lakeridge, second-year coach Elvis Akpla has already more than made his presence known throughout the entire football program. Knowing that numbers have been a major issue for the Pacers for nearly a decade, he has thrown himself into the youth program, making sure that players and coaches are on the same page and know what to expect in the coming years.

“I think, in the past, the youth program was kind of an afterthought so I worked hard to restructure things and give our youth players exposure to our high school staff and players,” Akpla said.

Akpla knows that this year’s senior class is still small in numbers but he anticipates that depth will be less of an issue in future seasons.

“Our seventh and eighth grade teams are pretty maxed out and our lower three classes are all strong in numbers,” Akpla said.

Being the smallest 6A school in the state, Lakeridge has had to make sure it stays as healthy as possible heading into the regular season.

Lake Oswego High School’s numbers have fallen slightly in recent years but coach Steve Coury says that he hasn’t changed the way his preseason practices are conducted.

“We’ve never been a big hitting team in practice anyway. I think three weeks is plenty of time but the difference right now is we have everyone all together. The freshmen are in there with everyone else for the most part,” Coury said.

It can often be a fine line as limiting contact in practices can reduce the risk of early injuries but may also leave players unready and potentially vulnerable in early-season contests.

“Injuries are going to be a given in any sport. We try to be preventative and have a different emphasis during each practice,” Akpla said.

The OSAA has cut back on summer practice times as well in recent years and coaches have to scramble to get their teams up to speed.

Akpla played for Lincoln High School, graduating in 2007 and, in less than a decade, the way summer practices have been conducted has changed tremendously.

“I think coaches had a little more free rein with time. We would do doubles or even triples sometimes. I always felt very prepared for our first game,” Akpla said.

And practices have come a long way since Coury’s days of playing high school football.

“It was completely unruled. You’d have guys practicing for three hours in the morning and then three more hours in the afternoon and then maybe throwing the ball around at night even. It was overdone and once someone starts doing it that way, everyone starts to copy it, but it’s much better now,” Coury said.

There has also been a heavy push toward educating players and coaches. Lakeridge and Lake Oswego have both reached out to Heads Up Tackling coaches for increased training on proper tackling technique.

“I think the biggest thing is just informing the parents on how to maintain a healthy athlete at home,” Akpla said.

It can often be a flurry to prepare teams now, often in some of the hottest conditions of the year and, come game time in the beginning of September, coaches can only hope to make it through preseason games unscathed.

“It’d be great to have an additional week to prepare. I think that would greatly reduce injuries. We have a high amount of awareness of our players in our first few games and we know how rigorous the Three Rivers League schedule will be,” Akpla said.

Both teams open up on Sept. 2 with Lake Oswego hosting Lincoln and Lakeridge traveling to Roosevelt.