A chance to hit someone other than teammates sure sounded good to the Bluejay football team last Friday, and the boys quickly acclimated to the contact.
Merrill faced host Wausau in the first round of action, then moved on to match-ups with Antigo and Lakeland.
“I thought it went very well,” MHS coach Nick Sturm said. “In the first scrimmage, our kids were a little shell-shocked. Not that they didn’t play well, but we didn’t fire off the ball on both offense and defense, probably for both teams. 
“In the next two scrimmages, we started executing at both levels. A lot of our players just needed some live reps to get used to it. I thought it got better as the day went on.
“A lot of people look good in shorts, but when you put the pads on it’s a different ball game. Really, we were short two practices with pads going into the scrimmage from last year, due to the new WIAA ruling. Football is a physical sport. Without pads you can’t really do it.”
West appeared to be strong in the trenches, although since Merrill plays football in the Great Northern and West plays in the Valley Football Ass’n. North, this is the extent of their competition.
“They’ll be solid up front on both sides of the ball, for the first time in a long time,” Sturm said. “They’ve had good skill players recently. They’ve got a D1 athlete at fullback/linebacker (Jake Whalen) and two guys that are D2-type talent.”
Solid skill players highlighted the Merrill end of the scrimmage.
“Jake Anderson stood out,” Sturm said. “He ended up scoring five touchdowns and made some very good plays on the ball. Mason Reinhardt made some very good runs, as well. Those two will be difference-makers this year. 
“A number of the juniors really progressed, gaining more and more confidence as the scrimmage went on. Dustin Dengel and Christian Kleinschmidt looked good on the defensive line, and Jake Nohr made some good plays at linebacker. Ty Butler played well on both offense and defense. He showed some toughness and physicality. Drew Hoff threw some nice balls.”
Sturm didn’t run a vanilla game plan against  fellow GNC teams Antigo and Lakeland.
“We have our base stuff and we want to get good at what we do,” he said. “I’m not worried about showing them stuff, because they will have seen it by then. Everybody knows what everybody does, other than a few little wrinkles here and there. But they have to stop it.”
Due to a scheduling quirk, the Bluejays will hit the road for the first three weeks of the season. They open the season on Friday at Onalaska, in the LaCrosse area. 
“It’s coming up quick, but we’re all excited to get into playing,” Sturm said. “We’ve practiced for a while, now let’s get into some games.
“They’re going to run the split-back veer, an option based offense and defensively run a 5-2 odd front and probably blitz a number of people. On offense they want to establish an interior running game to set up the pitch phase in the option game.”
Merrill opened the 2013 season with a 43-19 triumph over Onalaska, and Sturm feels his team has a great shot at another win.
“I think we match up well,” he said. “If we play our game, play up to our ability level, I think we match up well with a lot of teams on our schedule.
“But we’ve got to play at a high level each and every day of the week.”