John Wolfgram actually smiled on a football field Monday morning.

“Great day,” said Wolfgram, the coach of the defending Class A football champions at Cheverus High. “Beautiful day.”

Even with the cool temperatures and rain and drizzle, it was a beautiful day for many. Monday was the opening day of fall practices for the high school sports season.

Summer officially ended for athletes across the state — save those in Aroostook County who have already been practicing for two weeks — and they didn’t seem to mind.

“You start looking forward to this at the end of the school year,” said Mary Brown, a senior field hockey player at Thornton Academy in Saco. “You work hard all summer and then, once it’s here, it’s really exciting. This is where you see the best out of people.

“We may not be physically at our best yet, but we’re all trying our best. This really sets the tone for the rest of the season.”

The players especially seemed to like the fact that practice didn’t start under a blazing sun.

“It’s a lot better than it being 90 degrees” said Brett O’Kelly, a senior back for Portland’s boys’ soccer team, as the rain began to fall toward the end of the Bulldogs’ practice. “I don’t mind this at all.”

Neither did the coaches.

“As long as it’s not pouring, this is perfect,” said Mike Farley, coach of the defending Class A state championship girls’ soccer team at Scarborough. “To be able to have them run in cool temperatures is just perfect.”

And there was a lot of running on Monday morning. Many teams conducted their conditioning runs and coaches used long-distance runs to gauge the fitness of their players.

In addition to its conditioning run, Cheverus began implementing its offense and defense. There was no talk of last year’s championship.

In fact, the only reference to the 2010 undefeated championship came on the t-shirts presented to players. Even then, the reference was to a “New Quest for Gold.”

“With the emphasis on new,” said Spencer Cooke, a senior running back.

And that’s important to Wolfgram, or any coach returning with a championship banner. Wolfgram’s desire these first couple of days of camp is simple: “Just installation (of offense and defense) and establish the personality for this year.”

Woflgram seemed in fine form, at least to his players. “Yeah, we were joking around and he barked at us for having too much fun,” said Cam Olson, the senior quarterback.

Not that Wolfgram was all business. While working with the linemen, he showed a softer side.

“We usually have fun with him,” said senior tackle Christian Deschenes. “It’s not just all boring line drills. It’s entertaining. Even his comments are just funny a lot of the time.”

Portland’s Bulldogs won the Western Class A boys’ soccer title last year. Coach Rocco Frenzilli said his players need to understand one thing: “We had a wonderful season, wonderful success. And everybody (else) wants to get there … It’s a new season and there are a lot of really, really good teams out there.”

The Bulldogs seem pretty excited to defend their title. In fact, senior midfielder Ralph Houanche was awake at 7:30 a.m. — for a 12:30 p.m. practice.

“I was ready to go,” he said.

So was Jessica Broadhurst, a senior back for Scarborough’s girls. “Soccer is our life now,” she said. “I am excited to get started, I’m excited for the start of the season.”

Of course, not every team is returning with a championship. Thornton Academy’s boys’ soccer team is coming off a two-win season. The Trojans were out at 7 a.m. Monday, working through the rain. “It’s just nice to get back at it,” said Andrew Carlson, coach of the Trojans. “The idea is to start out slow, to see where the guys are at a fitness level and a technical level. We have three weeks before our first game and we want to get better with every session.”

Trojan senior Ryan Lambert, the back of his gray t-shirt soaked after doing sit-ups on the drenched grass, wouldn’t let the rain dampen his enthusiasm. The Trojans are moving to a turf field this year and, he said, the grass “would help us with the skidding and stuff. It’s just good to be out here. It’s my senior year and we’ve got a lot of positives going for us.”

The rain did force Lori Smith, the field hockey coach at Thornton Academy, to change up practice plans a little. After the conditioning run, she brought her players inside Linnell Gymansium for the Illinois agility drill, where players stickhandle a ball around a set of eight cones.

After that drill, they went back outside to work on other skills.

But the biggest thing, especially in these first few days, is to bond.

“We need to establish a hard-working atmosphere,” said Emily Tolman, a senior back at Scarborough. “Just like last year.”

Many of the players said they counted down their final days of summer as Aug. 15 approached. No more sleeping in.

“It’s all about football now,” said Mike Dedian, a senior lineman at Cheverus.

Or soccer. Or field hockey. Or cross country. Or golf. Or volleyball.

Let the fun begin.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH