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City Players Fired Up for Season Warm-Up : High school football: After a two-year absence, section's traditional Hell Week returns when practice starts today.


To hear players tell it, the City Section's return to Hell Week is heaven on earth.

Conditioning practice will begin today for City high school football teams, and a week of grueling two-a-day sessions in full pads will start on Monday. That's no breeze but it beats the tepid format of the past two years.

"Hell Week will be great," said Joey Rothman, a three-year starting center for Taft High. "Some loser kids might complain, but it's all daylong and the starters will practice and learn. We are planning on spending the whole day together like a family, bringing in pizza and watching films between workouts."

Because the L.A. Unified School District mandated a year-round calendar the past two years, school was in session during August and teams practiced after classes. The district this year allowed schools to return to the traditional September-to-June schedule, a format that was chosen by every high school in the Valley.

Tradition also inspires a romanticized perception of Hell Week to players who have never experienced two-a-days. They've heard alumni boast about surviving the experience and view it as a right of passage.

"Everybody I talk to is excited about going back to Hell Week because it's a tradition," said Jamal Brooks, a Granada Hills linebacker and tight end. "We can focus on nothing but football, not school or teachers. Then, when school starts, we'll already be down with what we need to know about football."

Most coaches also prefer the traditional schedule, but for different reasons.

"Hell Week gives you a chance to see who wants to put in the work," Reseda Coach Joel Schaeffer said. "You can gauge players' motivation."

A caveat for coaches is that they have little time to prepare their teams before opening night Sept. 10. Hell Week will be followed by Labor Day Weekend. School will open Sept. 7, giving teams only three after-school practices.

"I'm concerned about us, or any of the teams, being ready to play," Kennedy Coach Bob Francola said. "There are not a whole lot of days in pads."

Francola is among a minority who preferred the year-round schedule, which allowed teams to begin practice when school started in mid-August. Teams practice four weeks before playing a game.

"That calendar was perfect for football," he said. "Practicing once a day after school, kids could learn at a reasonable rate." Or, as Schaeffer said, "There is only so much you can cram into a mind."

Teams that take a basic approach might be better prepared early in the season.

"The kids will be trying to survive Hell Week," Francola said. "Teams that rely on sophistication and finesse will suffer.

"This is the pits."

A glance at the schedule might explain Francola's fretting: Kennedy will open against Sylmar, the defending City 4-A champion.

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