Monday morning across the region football teams arrived for the first day of practice with the goal of making the state playoffs fresh on their minds.

But, first, they had to make it through two grueling days of conditioning.

The sweet screeching sound of whistles, followed by the pop of the blocking pads echoed across the practice fields as the summer sun gleamed off the freshly resurfaced helmets. Football is back.

Last week was all about the mental preparation for the season ahead -- Monday for football players and local cheerleading squads was all about preparing for their first performance on the Friday Night stage.

On Tuesday, band camp at North Middlesex Regional provided a little background music that provided a taste of what's to come. Numbers across the region have surprisingly improved according to local coaches.

As of Tuesday afternoon, North Middlesex had 58 players on their roster with the hope of adding an additional five-to-10 additional players, preferably freshmen, once school begins.

The North Middlesex football team, coaches included, took the ice bucket challenge Monday and Tuesday afternoons at John E. Young Memorial Field.

Head coach Mark Roy and his Patriots' volleyball squad took the ice bucket challenge as well this past week -- ramping the number of North Middlesex teams up to three who have done it at last count.

Groton-Dunstable currently has 60 players on its team -- which Groton-Dunstable athletic director Michael McCafferey announced that is enough to field a freshmen football team.


The Crusaders lacked a freshmen team last season due to smaller than usual numbers.

Head coach Derek Asadoorian's Crusaders return a veteran offensive line and a huge void to fill in the backfield with the graduation of Quentin Forbes, who was a duel-threat at quarterback.

He could burn you on the pass and you better believe the former running back could toast you on the run.

Cory Romich looks to be the front-runner at the start of camp for Groton-Dunstable to assume the quarterback spot after day two of camp.

Ayer Shirley, who is under the tuteledge of second-year head coach Billy Wright has just 30 players on its roster at the start of practice. With no locker room to call its own, Panthers players can be seen walking the streets of town with their shoulder pads and helmets in hand. The grass on the Panthers' home stadium, Harold E. Norton Field, is in pristine condition. Judging by the looks of things at Tuesday afternoon's practice behind the high school, the Panthers appear dialed in and communicating well.

With the return of assistants Leigh Zancewicz and former head coach Jamie Lamoreaux, the Panthers have a new energy surrounding them. With the return of offensive/ defensive lineman DJ Richard, the Panthers look to have a tough presence between the hash marks.

Football is not the only sport that returned to the practice field this week.

North Middlesex and Ayer Shirley, respectively, return with three new head coaches.

The Patriots have a new girls' soccer head coach in Margaret Nickless and NMRHS physical education teacher Jeff Waldron as its new boys' soccer coach after longtime coach Pen Burnham announced his retirement earlier this summer.

Ayer Shirley volleyball will be without a home court in the first few weeks of its season, as construction on the updated gymnasium has not been completed. Athletic Director Jon Sweeney notified me Monday that the target date for the gymnasium's completion is Sept. 16. Locker rooms should be completed by early to mid October.

In the mean time, Ayer Shirley volleyball will play its home games and hold its practices at Ayer Shirley Middle School in Shirley.

It feels nice driving by the schools seeing activity down on the fields and the excitement in the eyes of the coaches, parents and players. Starting Sept. 11, my Friday nights are booked with high school football.

And, I wouldn't want it any other way.

Follow Ed Niser on Twitter/Tout:@EdNiser