In Calhoun County and around the state, high school football teams hit the field for the official start of preseason practice by AHSAA rule. Although it’s the first of many practices that will extend over at least the next three months, it also signified being that much closer to Aug. 29-30, when teams will play their season openers.
“The players were upbeat, but it wasn’t really too much different than what we’ve been doing all summer long,” Wellborn coach Jeff Smith said. “Monday was just like a normal Monday with us starting out in the weight room, but Tuesday we’re having two-a-days.”
The transition from the last week of summer conditioning workouts to the first day of practice declined drastically after the Alabama High School Athletic Association changed the date on which players are allowed to practice in full pads. They must wait until the fourth day of practice, which is Thursday. No shoulder pads and leg pads are allowed for the first three days, but helmets are. Teams are allowed to condition and do drills during June and July.
“You get tired of summer workouts and you’re ready to get back to playing football. Starting practice is really refreshing,” Alexandria coach Frank Tucker said. “The guys seemed really excited, but that’s common. I’ve always felt that it’s easy to be excited the first few days, but how excited are you the second week. The telling facts are how excited are you later.”
Oxford coach Ryan Herring said practice is going to get tougher each day, but with the rules that have been put in place by the AHSAA, it’s tougher mentally than physical for players.
“They’ve got to keep players protected well, so it’s not as tough as it used to be,” Herring said. “You’ve got rules now that you can’t go two-a-days two days in a row. They do a lot to protect the health of the kids, so it’s probably more mental being out and getting acclimated to the heat than anything else.”
The heat has pushed practices to the earlier and later parts of the day. Alexandria took the field at 8 a.m. for its first practice Monday and returned at 5 p.m. With temperature reaching 87 degrees during the hottest part of the day, Monday morning and late afternoon was nearly 10 degrees cooler.
But in a football-crazy state, coaches and players were excited to return to the field regardless of the weather conditions.
“They were more intense Monday than they were last week,” said Smith, whose team will play in the Champions Challenge on Aug. 22. “We’ve got a countdown for the first ballgame and the Champions Challenge game. We’re going to be playing a football game in 17 days. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Part of the light is accompanied by players putting on full pads in two days and entering a traditional practice setting. However, Herring said his first practice at Oxford was the same as if the Yellow Jackets had on full equipment.
“We’re still going 11-on-11, doing inside runs, perimeter runs and all that stuff,” he said.“We’re doing everything like it’s a real practice. We just don’t have the contact that you’ll have when you’re in pads.”
With another important date down, high school football is a day closer to kicking off. Teams are fewer than two weeks from intrasquad scrimmages, fewer than three weeks from jamboree games and four weeks from Week 1 games.
“I want to build the excitement to play to Friday,” Smith said. “I don’t want them just crazy today, I want to get it to Friday. I want to structure my week to where it builds up to game day.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.