Several Upper Arlington High School football players couldn't contain their excitement as they walked toward Marv Moorehead Stadium on the evening of June 7.
The grind of preseason activities still was a month off, and the season opener isn't for more than two months, but the Golden Bears got to enjoy one fun night under the lights during the team's fourth annual Midnight Madness event.
"It makes you nostalgic," senior running back/wide receiver Dylan Lewis said. "It makes me want to get out there and hit and do everything over again from last year. You get so much more hyped up than you already are."
The brainchild of coach Joel Cutler, Midnight Madness is meant as a fun two-hour event to kick off the team's summer schedule. It includes a long pass and snap relay, a shuttle relay, tractor tire push and water balloon toss as well as dodgeball and kickball.
"This sets the tone for the summer," said Cutler, who began the event during his two-year stint at Ready (2012-13). "There are no 'Xs and Os.' There's no blocking and tackling. When we do exit interviews at the end of every season, this is always one of the things the guys mention as far as their favorite moments. There are four, five or six days they love over the course of the year, and this is one of them. It's a fun way to bring the family back together.
"Having fun with our friends is why most of us got into this game to begin with."
The 58-degree temperature at the start of Midnight Madness at 9:30 p.m. perhaps made the night feel more like early October than early June -- not that players such as senior linebacker Dante Landolfi needed that.
"Every time I'm out there on the field, it's one of the greatest feelings I've ever had," said Landolfi, who has a busy summer schedule planned as he will participate in camps at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale and visit Brown, Dartmouth and Davidson. "I get the rush I get on Friday nights (during the season). I love this team and I love this event. It's a great time every year."
Players compete in four groups that were decided before offseason activities began in January. Those are led by a captain and one other player.
"It's a great bonding experience whenever we get together," said senior Matt Hoke, the Bears' expected starter at right tackle and either defensive tackle or nose guard. "We're putting in work even if we don't think about it that way. It makes us hold each other accountable."
Midnight Madness began with a speech from Tommy Farwick, a 2009 UA graduate who ran for 2,705 yards and 22 touchdowns on 378 carries from 2006-08 and was named district Offensive Player of the Year and first-team all-state as a senior.
Farwick went on to play at Otterbein.
UA spreads its 10 camp days throughout July leading into two-a-days, which begin July 31.
The Bears open the regular season Aug. 25 at home against St. Charles.
"They only wish our 10 days of camp were as much fun as throwing water balloons," Cutler said.