‘It’s nice to get back to normalcy’ Sandwich welcomes summer camp with young talent, depth

SANDWICH – Kris Cassie has only been the head coach for the Sandwich football team for a few years now, but he hasn’t forgotten the normal life of someone in his position.

This week he was reacquainted with such normalcy as Sandwich held a football camp at the school.

“Last year we had kids playing football and baseball at the same time and we let them do both and we moved practice times around so if a kid had to miss one, so be it,” Cassie said. “They were always doing something. Now it feels normal with camp and then we’ll give them a break and move into regular practice. We’re able to slow things down and break it down to the fundamentals and can just do a better job of teaching the game of football and that feels about 100% better.”

Freshman Nathan Hill, 14, who joked that learning to drive is what he’s most interested in conquering as he enters the Sandwich High School halls this fall, is playing football for the first time. His mom, Sara, picked him up from camp on Friday morning.

“I normally do soccer, but my dad played so I wanted to try it,” he said. “The camp was about what I thought it would be. I liked learning the plays and I knew a good amount of the kids here. I liked how (the older kids) shared their knowledge of the game.”

Hill is among a solid group of new players, something the sport and the Sandwich athletic department certainly welcome.

“We also have some of that with some of our older kids, but we have a really nice freshman class of 24 or 25 of them,” Cassie said. “And a lot of them lost last year because of COVID-19 and that was going to be their first opportunity to play as eighth graders. So it’s nice to have them here fresh and excited and they’re like little sponges soaking up information.”

Cassie acknowledged that the program has a lot of young talent at the lower levels as well as some depth, both positives for an Indians team that went 1-4 in the spring with its final game canceled due to COVID-19 issues.

“We’re starting to see the numbers go up at those lower levels,” Cassie said. “So we’re trending up as far as numbers-wise, which is good.”

Sandwich sophomore Johnny Longoria is a first-time camper who said it’s good for the kids to lean on the coaches and the veteran players for guidance.

“I listen to the coaches and what they tell me to do and keep working on it to try to get better,” Longoria said. “It’s been fun teaching these kids because they are the future of this program, so if they don’t do something right, I try to help them get better. I don’t make them run a lot, but I make them run a little so they tell themselves in the head.”

Evan Gottlieb, a Sandwich junior who played his freshman year but didn’t play last year due to COVID-19 and travel basketball commitments, said the pressure of being a part of something greater than oneself has been a driving factor towards the success of the camp.

“It’s tough waking up early in the morning, because everyone feels bad, they’re tired and their bodies are hurting, but you know you’ve got to be here for the team and the family,” Gottlieb said said. “When I was a little kid I did the same thing coming to camp and I just loved being with the older guys.”

Sandwich has some big pieces returning this fall, including juniors Danny Reedy and Seven Tornga and seniors Kaden Gustafson, Joe Rizzuto and Christian Sommers, as well as a huge addition in 6-foot-5, 275-pound senior transfer Theo Arnold from Lincoln-Way West.

“We’ve got some good pieces to build around,” Cassie said. ”We’ve also had some move-ins at the lower level too. Right now we’re just trying to focus on fundamentals, getting our timing down on offense, getting our responsibilities down on defense. The guys have come in with good attitudes every day and it’s a hardworking group that’s focused on having a good season so we’ll see what happens.”

Getting back to normal feels good, even on days like Friday where the heat and humidity can take their toll and a swimming pool sounds like a delightful retreat.

“Now it’s nice to get back to normalcy,” Cassie said. “I’m really happy with where we’re at and next week will be our second week before we take the IHSA dead period off and then we’ll get some guys back from basketball camps and stuff like that. And we’ll really start piecing it together because we’ve got to be ready for Ottawa on week one.”

The Indians host the Pirates in their opener on Aug. 27.