It was Friday night, the helmets were on, the whistles were blown and the coaches were barking orders.
At South Aiken, the Thoroughbreds football team welcomed the first day of practice in South Carolina just three weeks before the team’s season opener against Richland Northeast.
“It’s a big day,” South Aiken coach Jeremy West said. “We’re anxious to get back out here and put in the work. It’s exciting to be out here.”
While South Aiken and North Augusta elected to go with evening practices, Aiken and Silver Bluff were early risers, with Bulldogs coach Al Lown up at 5:30 a.m. before he picked up two players to bring to his practice’s scheduled 7:45 a.m. start.
For South Carolina teams, the first two days of practice – with only helmet and shorts as gear – can have only three practice hours.
Players and teams can’t practice for more than three hours a day until day 6. But even then, long days (five hours of practice allowed) and short days (three hours) must be alternated. For long days, practices must be separated by two hours of rest.
But Lown said his team hasn’t had to change its practices much. With 36 players this season, many will play on offense and defense; by the time the third hour nears its end, players will be tired.
“It’s not a big change because we never did two-a-days,” Lown said. “They go three hours, they’re spent. For us, it’s nothing dramatic at all. But a lot of stuff they’re trying to change is for the better.”
At North Augusta, coach Dan Pippin had his players show up about two hours before the start of evening practice. That way, not only does he get his team into meetings, but he and his coaches can make sure the players are constantly drinking and staying hydrated.
That’s just one small piece of what makes up a program that has won 10 regular-season games in three consecutive seasons.
To reach that mark again, the Yellow Jackets must replace offensive talent like quarterback Tyrell Hillary, wide receiver Montez McGuire and running back Vinny Miller.
But even with the departures at key offensive positions, North Augusta will be playing fast – on both sides of the ball.
“The kids believe in it now,” Pippin said. “I don’t know if we’re in better shape than everybody else, but the kids think we are, so when they see those kids bending over tired, they start eating that up.”