The Eagles were on the field at 7:30 a.m., and Sequoyah wasn’t far behind. Cherokee got to work in the late afternoon as did River Ridge, Woodstock and Creekview.
By the time the sun was setting, each of the coaches knew a little more about their teams, and all of the players were breathing a little harder.
Etowah coach Dave Svehla and his staff attempted to gauge the team’s readiness Wednesday night.
“We put our kids through a fitness challenge that was pretty demanding,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. A good team competition and a really good activity, but it was pretty rigorous. I wasn’t positive how they would show up at 7 o’clock (Thursday) morning. Overall, I was fairly happy with their work ethic.”
Cherokee coach Josh Shaw expressed a little disappointment with the level of enthusiasm at practice. Shaw said the players had been working hard all summer and encouraging each other.
He expected the same thing Thursday, but didn’t get it.
“The intensity can improve a bit,” Shaw said. “That was the one thing that was discouraging. That was something I told our guys after practice. I would have hoped that would have been there because it was there all summer.”
Still, Shaw was pleased.
River Ridge coach Robert Braucht said the first day of practice is as much for the coaches as the players.
“You have to make sure the practice schedule is right,” he said. “Then you start looking at personnel and if they are in the right place. I would say, 99 percent of it, we had the right schedule and have the kids in the right places. You just have to know that, when you put on the pads, everything changes. The way the body reacts to movements, the stance — everything changes.”
Braucht said what sets football apart from other sports is that when the players work out during the summer, they aren’t able to do it with their equipment. In other sports such as baseball, basketball or soccer, equipment doesn’t change from season to season.
“That creates a variable for these kids by rule,” Braucht said. “It hurts us compared to other sports that can practice with all their equipment.”
He also said he would review the film from Thursday’s practice before the players hit the field again today, so that he can make any needed adjustments.
“For the most part, we couldn’t be any more excited,” Braucht said. “They kids were pretty excited. They got after it pretty good.”
Svehla said the biggest part of seeing the players work out in pads is that it helped him see who the top players really are.
“A lot of players look good when they don’t have pads on,” he said. “It’s a matter of do you know your assignment and where to go and can you get there. But when you get in pads and there is someone trying to stop you, then we start to find out who the football players are.”
Shaw and his staff tried to figure out if players were in the right spot during spring practice. So far, he feels most of the players are in the positions that suits them the best.
“Coming into (Thursday), we knew we might move a guy here or there, but were tried to solidify all of that in the spring when we could see how everyone looked in pads for the first time,” Shaw said.
In some ways, Creekview’s Terry Crowder echoed Shaw’s sentiment.
“For us, it was a continuation of the spring, which I thought went very well,” the Grizzlies’ first-year coach said. “The kids are very tough. We just have to hone everything up so that we can execute.”
Etowah’s players were excited about making contact, and to that end, Svehla opened practice with 25 minutes of hitting.
“They dig that,” Svehla said. “Kids that really love the game love the physical part of the game. It got them in a good mood to start practice.”
Because wearing pads adds both weight and heat to players’ bodies, each of the coaches take precautions to make sure their players aren’t overworked or overheated.
Shaw said the heat surprised his team.
“I think the heat and the humidity kind of snuck up on us a bit,” he said. “We have had a relatively cool month of July, and the heat and humidity popped out (Thursday), and I think it impacted us a bit.”
Crowder said he was happy to finally have some heat, so the players could finally experience it.
“We hadn’t had any high temperatures, so that was a challenge for them (Thursday),” Crowder said. “I think they showed some toughness. It was a very spirited practice. I was pleased.”
Rain fell at River Ridge during the first portion of practice, which helped keep the temperatures down for the players. Still, Braucht said they always take precautions with the players.
“We have water break built in and we never keep the water from the kids,” Braucht said. “We actually have the water out there for them in between plays. I’m a firm believer that a healthy kid is your best player. It doesn’t do us any good if they are dehydrated on the sidelines.”