The players can’t wear pads until next week, but they will be out on the field today.
In other words, preseason high school football is starting early this year.
Local teams will hit the fields for the first official preseason practice with the regular season exactly one month away. Dalton kicks off first, Aug. 24 at Ringgold, while other local teams begin seven days later.
Per the GHSA’s new rules, which went into effect in March, teams can begin official practice five consecutive weekdays prior to Aug. 1 as long as those practices don’t last longer than two hours and players wear shorts and limit their protective equipment to helmets and mouthpieces. Previous rules did not allow teams to have official practices before Aug. 1.
The result is teams have more time to practice, just with restrictions.
“We’ll do a lot of the same stuff,” Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said. “It just won’t be any contact. We’ll do a lot of agility stuff.”
Most coaches don’t see it as a drastic change to their practice schedule from years past. Northwest Whitfield coach Josh Robinson said the Bruins’ first days in full pads would typically include some special teams work, but these helmet-and-shorts-only practices will be lighter with only “a couple of plays” on special teams involved.
Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin views it as “an extra week” to prepare.
“I don’t think it affects us too much,” Hamlin said. “If it had been Aug. 1 that we had to do five days (of conditioning), then I’d think it does more to affect us.”
One area coach feels the adjustment will come Aug. 1. According to GHSA rules, teams can practice in full pads twice a day then as long as a single session does not last more than three hours, the total amount of combined time for the two practices is not more than five hours, there is at least a three-hour break in between the sessions and there are no two-a-day practices on consecutive days.
“It doesn’t really affect your schedule, it’s just those first five days it’s mandatory that you’ve got to have helmets and shorts on,” Murray County coach John Hammond said. “The scheduling part will come when you get into your first five days on Aug. 1, where you’re given the choice of traditional two-a-days (with stipulations) or one three-hour practice. We’re going to do one three-hour practice.”
Coaches will be using the five conditioning days for a number of things. For some teams with a new coach, this period will continue the work from spring practice in learning a new system.
“We’re going to try to install our offense, our defense and our special teams,” said David Gann, North Murray’s new head coach. “We’ve worked fundamentals and conditioned and lifted weights all summer, so now we’re going to try to polish up on our offense and defense and special teams.”
Others will focus on getting into football shape, even though some feel summer activities like seven-on-seven competitions already accomplish that.
“We’re going to use this, No. 1, for getting in shape,” Hammond said. “And you can’t do any contact or anything like that, so we’ll use it not so much as fundamental time. Like on offense, as far as linemen, we’ll go over blocking rules and that sort of thing. Not so much footwork on how to get there, but your rules on what do I do on such and such a play.”
Said Dalton coach Matt Land, “We have been conditioning all summer, so for us we just looked at it as more total practices leading up to games. I think the thing that happened is with them limiting the amount of full contact days we can have, I think you have to use these days as ways to work on things that you don’t need full contact.”
But Southeast Whitfield coach Sean Gray, another new face for a local school, is thankful to have these extra five days as a bridge between summer activities and preseason.
“To me, it’s just like an extension of summer workouts,” he said. “It gives you a little more time to get more organized and get all the kids rounded up and ready to go.”
— Additional reporting by sports editor Marty Kirkland