Head coach Ryan Jesop works with quarterbacks and receivers. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Head coach Ryan Jesop works with quarterbacks and receivers. (Staff photo by David Campbell)

There is still a week of summer vacation left for Switzerland County High School, but that didn’t stop more than 40 students from hitting the field for the first official varsity football practice in school history on Monday.

Head coach Ryan Jesop and his staff oversaw the two-hour practice that included blocking drills, wide receiver routes and other fundamentals in preparation for the Aug. 21 opener at home against Bracken County (Ky.).

“It is kind of a weight off your shoulders when kids show up. We’ve had a lot of kids that were here we weren’t expecting to be here and it’s one week before school starts,” Jesop said. “Without having a football tradition here and building it as we go, it was very refreshing to see the amount of kids we have.”

The journey toward a varsity program began two years ago when Jesop, a former Madison assistant, was hired to start a junior high and a freshman team. After playing a junior varsity schedule a year ago, the decision was made to move to varsity this season.

Initially the plan was to play two seasons of JV in order to get the players ready for the bigger world of varsity, but with an IHSAA realignment coming up this past spring coupled with a group that was coming along well, school officials were encouraged to push the debut forward to this year.

For Jesop and the other coaches, the biggest hurdle to overcome hasn’t been teaching kids how to play the game of football, but to acclimate the school and the community to what it means to have high school football. That includes starting football practice on the first Monday of August, rather than waiting until school begins officially.

“Last year at this time we were waiting until school started until we had enough guys come out to actually do practice,” Jesop said. “That’s what makes this year so nice is that we have this big group of kids who decided to forego their last week of summer vacation and come out here on a 95-degree day and start practicing football. It’s great to see.”

That culture change was one of the reasons why Jesop pushed to accelerate his program to varsity status. As he saw the program building, he knew he needed that next level in order to continue the growth.

“For the culture and what we are trying to build, if we didn’t make a set Friday night thing and we kept picking up JV games here and there and people didn’t really know when we played, it would have been tough,” Jesop said. “In most communities, Friday nights means high school football and the town shuts down. We needed to build that here.”

Monday’s practice was relatively light with no pads and no contact. The team will go through ImPACT testing today to set a concussion protocol and then head off to Whitewater Christian Camp this weekend for a retreat. It is at camp that the pads will come out and the team will begin hitting.

All of the work is in anticipation of the team’s first live action, a controlled scrimmage at Clarksville next Friday, and the season opener against Bracken County.

Jesop said he has not been thinking too much about the fact that his squad is going varsity this season, especially since he’s not too sure of what to expect.

“Ignorance is bliss and I’m pretty ignorant,” Jesop laughed. “I don’t really get too stressed out too much or worry too much about things ... Maybe that’s my own fault for not understanding the gravity of the situation, but it doesn’t feel real different to me, other than that our expectations have grown so much.”

Switzerland County will play five home games this season, all in the first seven weeks. Following the Bracken County opener, the Pacers head across the river to Gallatin County (Ky.) and then have four-straight home games, against Carroll County (Ky.), Eminence (Ky.), Scottsburg and Oldenburg meaning Pacer fans will get a good chance to see their gridders in action.

“The community has been outstanding,” Jesop said. “They’ve been great with volunteers and people that have been willing to help, and the coaches have been great about taking kids to get physicals and things like that and one coach gave back their stipend and said ‘I want every kid to be able to go to camp this summer.’ Everybody has been fantastic.”