EVERETT — Even for a big-time college recruit like Andru Pulu, it’s hard to get back into football mode after a long layoff.
Pulu is one of about 60 players participating in the 2009 East-West All-Star Football Game. All week, Pulu and his new pals on the West team have been practicing in preparation for Saturday’s game against the East team at Everett Memorial Stadium.
On Monday, Pulu put on pads and a helmet for the first time since mid-November, when his Federal Way High School team was knocked out of the Class 4A state playoffs by eventual champion Skyline. The University of Washington-bound linebacker, like many other East-West competitors, acknowledged that it took awhile to get comfortable again.
“It is pretty hard,” the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Pulu said Wednesday. “I haven’t put pads on since the season ended. But a couple days and we’ll be good.”
Conditioning wasn’t the problem, Pulu and others said. The hardest part, they said, is getting your body used to the strain of full-speed contact. For Pulu, it was a sore neck.
“It’s rough,” West team center Dillon Reagan of Issaquah High said. “The first two practices — it’s been a couple months since we’ve hit. I’ve been working out so my stamina was good, but getting the body used to hitting again was tough. But we’re all starting to come around.”
Getting physically prepared for Saturday’s game is a challenge, but how about the mental side? Players are learning offensive and defensive schemes that, in many cases, are very different from what they used in high school. And between Monday and Friday they have just eight practices to absorb it all.
“It’s a lot of learning, ” West team assistant coach Dick Abrams said. During the first practice, a nearly three-hour Monday afternoon session, West coaches essentially unloaded the entire playbook. “It was amazing,” said Abrams, “because we pretty much put everything in, and then we have to refine it over the next (four) days.”
Asked to digest new ideas and terminology, the football stars have absorbed it rapidly and impressed coaches. East team head coach Greg Kittrell said his squad made great leaps in a short amount of time.
“There’s a transition piece there,” Kittrell said Wednesday, “but to be perfectly honest they’ve got a high football IQ so they pick it up quick. Even (after) the third day in, I’m very happy with the growth they’ve had already.”
“You tell them one time,” West team head coach John Ondriezek said, “and they get it.”
Of course, it helps that the East-West Game rules simplify what teams can do. For example, on defense teams must use a 5-2 alignment (five linemen, two linebackers) and stunting is not allowed. On offense, the squads are limited to four formations. East and West coaches exchange offensive sets and defensive coverages during the week, which removes much of the uncertainty that usually goes with preparing for a game.
So, after about 17 hours of on-field practice time, will everything go according to plan on Saturday? Will players line up in the correct spots, run the right routes and fill the appropriate gaps? Odds are it won’t be perfect. But that might not matter to fans, who will still get to see a showcase of the state’s top gridiron standouts.
“When the game starts, it’s like even though you’ve been coaching certain things, the talent comes out,” coach Abrams said. “And then everybody starts playing with their natural ability and natural talent.”
Mike Cane: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.