First day of practice draws near

Annette M. Drowlette/Staff
Westside High football coach Gerald Barnes (left) talks with Richmond Academy coach Chris Hughes on Thursday during a preseason kickoff luncheon at Bobby's Bar-B-Q in Warrenville.

WARRENVILLE --- High school football teams can begin official practices this weekend. But if this is the first time they have gotten together this summer, they will quickly find themselves scrapping to catch up with everyone else.


With the growth of off-season passing leagues and encouragement of summer workouts, the first day of official practice has evolved into little more than another day on the calender, another step on the climb toward a successful season.

That was the consensus among the area coaches who gathered at Bobby's Bar-B-Q on Thursday afternoon for The Augusta Chronicle /WJBF NewsChannel 6 Coaches Kickoff.

South Carolina schools can begin official practices today. Georgia schools can follow the next day.

"It's a weird year," said Evans coach Marty Jackson, who added he couldn't remember starting official practices on a Saturday.

But that's what Evans will do Saturday morning, on its way to a season it hopes will yield another region title. Evans went 10-0 last season in Region 3-AAAA. At a time of the year when everyone is undefeated and optimistic, Jackson cited a 37-member junior class as a reason his team could produce another championship.

The first day of official practice remains exciting, Jackson said, because players get to put on equipment.

"All week everybody's been asking me: 'Are we going to hit? Are we going to hit?' " Jackson said.

Glenn Hills coach Ernest Tolbert was bedridden for part of the summer, after he had surgery to replace his right hip. An old football injury, the former Savannah State player called it.

Tolbert said his team's participation in four passing leagues this summer was an opportunity to get inexperienced players involved. Passing leagues are offense-geared competitions with rules like: two-hand touch and no running plays allowed.

The Spartans must simplified their offense this year, he said, because the team will be inexperienced on offense.

"The heart of our team is going to come from the youth on our team," said Tolbert, who was pleased with a schedule that will give his team six home games.

Fox Creek coach Russell Schneider said he has seen passing leagues become more physical and competitive. He's seen players loose teeth.

The added emphasis on passing leagues -- nearly every team in the area competed in at least one this summer -- has made them more fierce, he said.

Passing leagues and off-season workouts are the best ways to measure a team's improvement, coaches said.

Coaches looking for high-level involvement in summer conditioning often dangle a reward in front of players. Westside coach Gerald Barnes honored players who met summer workout goals with a meal at Ryan's Steakhouse this week.

"It's just something to let them know (coaches) saw them getting better," he said.

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or



SATURDAY: First official practice

AUG. 13-14: Richmond County scrimmages at Laney, featuring all eight county teams

AUG. 21: Area's first game: Grovetown at Buford

AUG. 28: Opening date for everyone else


TODAY: First official practice

AUG. 14: Aiken County Jamboree at Aiken High

AUG. 21: Week 0, opening date for five area teams

AUG. 28: Opening date for everyone else