DES LACS - Austin Aberle hardly had to think while his coach installed a 4-4 defensive set at Thursday's morning practice.
When Des Lacs-Burlington coach James Johnson asked his players which gap each of the four linebackers was responsible for in a variety of situations, the senior linebacker responded instantly with the correct answer each time.
"I've been playing defense since I was a freshman," he said. "It just comes naturally."
Des Lacs-Burlington coach James Johnson instructs Tanner Holte (front) and Keenan Browne during a defensive drill at Thursday’s practice.
Aberle's No. 1 practice jersey had multiple tears around the shoulders from hits he distributed and received throughout the years. But there was no contact yet. That comes on Saturday.
"Yeah, seriously, I want to suit up, get full-contact going," Aberle said. "It's a lot more fun when it's full-contact."
The players wore shorts along with helmets and shoulder pads. The day started with stretching and a 15-minute conditioning drill before a water break and the installation of the defense.
The set puts eight men in the box and is designed to stop the run. The Lakers - 3-5 in 2011 - return 10 of last year's defensive starters.
"Our philosophy has always been to be able to stop the run first and force teams to pass," said Johnson, who is coaching his 25th year at DL-B.
The 8 a.m. practice was the first of two for the day. Johnson said the second one would focus on offense and special teams.
The Lakers return eight of last year's offensive starters but one of the losses is graduated quarterback Marshall Selfors. In his place steps junior Austin Schestler.
"It drives me a lot," Schestler said. "I really want to lead the team on offense."
DL-B enters these early practices with an eye on long-term goals. The Lakers hope to return to the state playoffs, a place they haven't been since 2009.
They've finished one spot short of postseason play each of the last two years.
"We have nine seniors and their goal is to reach the playoffs," Johnson said. "That's our goal every year."