The first five days of Georgia High School Association preseason football practices are merely an appetizer for fans counting down the days to the first crack of the pads on Friday night.
For some coaches and players, it brings excitement knowing football is back. For others, it’s an anxious period they just want to get through.
The first area game kicks off on Aug. 23, when Dalton High hosts Ringgold High at Harmon Field. The other local teams kick off the season on Aug. 30.
Thursday was the first day GHSA teams were permitted to hold “official” practice, but players must work out in shorts, T-shirts and helmets for five business days before putting on pads for the first time, which can happen Aug. 1 at the earliest.
So for five days, teams can’t hit. Teams can’t go full speed. It’s like eating a blooming onion to pass the time while the T-bone steak is being cooked.
“We had a coaches’ meeting yesterday (Thursday) and said we wanted to get these days behind us,” Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said. “The summers are different with all the seven-on-seven tournaments. The kids are in shape. Then they have to do these days. Summers are so much different, but we’re just waiting for Aug. 1 to get here.”
After Friday, the second day, it seemed to some like the main course may never come.
“Two or three days like this doesn’t bother me at all,” Southeast Whitfield coach Sean Gray said, “because we need to get in shape and do a lot of explaining and walking through plays and schemes. But after a few days, you’re definitely ready to put on the pads. Unfortunately, we have three more days in shorts.”
The requirement for five days without pads was made by the GHSA executive committee in April 2012 to allow players to get into football condition. The decision was made after two Georgia prep football players died during summer workouts in 2011. Only one of those deaths — Locust Grove’s Forest Jones — was attributed to heat stroke, according to autopsy results.
Still, many coaches feel many players are already acclimated to warm temperatures with the summer schedule full of seven-on-seven camps. Also, coaches are more cautious about the demands they place on players early on in the practice schedule.
“Most teams have been doing this stuff all summer,” North Murray coach David Gann said. “So these are just more of that and we’re ready to get into real football.”
However, Gann believes these days are necessary, even if somewhat frustrating. Seven-on-seven competitions are targeted for the most athletic players on the teams at the skill positions on offense and linebackers and the secondary on defense.
While linemen have been going through summer workouts with the team, they have seen very little time on the field.
“The summer workouts for a lot of people are voluntary,” Gann said. “You have kids on vacation and stuff. So you can make this (acclimation period) mandatory. I do think they’re needed. With the heat being such a danger to kids, the more you can get them used to it before getting pads on, I’m all for.”
Temperatures this week were in the mid to upper-80s and are expected to be the same next week.
There are benefits to these types of practices. Coaches use the time for conditioning, fundamentals, walk-throughs and special teams.
“For us, we start practice with agility stations,” Gray said. “We have seven agility stations the kids rotate through, which is basically conditioning. ... We’ve done some seven-on-seven because that’s what we’ve done all summer. We’ll have our special teams in by the time we get to pads.”
It’s a similar regimen on the other side of Whitfield County, Northwest Whitfield senior Andy Whisenant said. And while he said the players are anxious to get pads on and go full throttle, they understand what the no-pads practices mean.
“These conditioning practices starting up tells you the season is right around the corner,” Whisenant said.