Instead of hearing a rooster crow, many could wake this morning to the sounds of whistles blowing and pads smacking. That’s because today’s the first day of practice for high school football teams across South Carolina.
The Aiken-area high school programs won’t let a minute of practice time go to waste, as all will be in action today. It’s the next step progressing toward the rapidly approaching season.
Since the end of last season, teams have worked in spring practice and stayed busy over the summer with conditioning sessions and passing camps. That has led to today, which is part of the prelude to the season.
For the next two weeks, area teams will work hard in preparation for the Aiken County Jamboree at Midland Valley High School on Aug. 15. Following that sneak preview, the curtain will officially go up as the season will kick off with Week Zero games on Aug. 22.
The hard work and sweat poured today will sow the seeds of success during the season. Perspiration might not be the only reason players leave the practice fields drenched; the forecast for the morning – when almost every team will be practicing – calls for a 40 percent chance of rain and the possibility of scattered thunderstorms. Temperatures aren’t expected to rise above the high 70s before noon, but high humidity levels will make it feel hotter.
Practicing in the heat is always a concern, and most teams combat the potential of searing heat by practicing before the mercury really starts to climb. Fox Creek is the only area team practicing in the afternoon, but the Predators won’t take the field until 5:30 p.m., when the temperature and humidity will start to recede.
In addition to avoiding the hottest times of the day, coaching staffs will keep a close eye on their players and have a number of water breaks to keep them hydrated. In most cases, today’s practices will be routine and relatively benign. They’re more organizational than strategic and are geared toward creating continuity among the players, who will be instilled with the goals for a long season.
This will be especially important at three area schools, who will be under the guidance of new head coaches this season. Antwaun Hillary, Brian Thomas and Derek Youngblood have taken over at Strom Thurmond, North Augusta and Williston-Elko respectively. Those programs are three of the most successful in the area – and state – over the past five years, so there will be great interest in seeing how the new head coaches fare.
Thomas benefits from the return of quarterback Trib Reece. The rising senior led the area in all key passing statistics last season and figures to have another big season.
Most other teams won’t be as fortunate, as eight squads will have new players taking over behind center as full-time signal callers.
While some teams will be looking to smooth the way for new quarterbacks, all of them will use the next two weeks to determine starters at other critical positions. Today’s the start of many battles for playing time. And coaches won’t have too long to figure out who to plug in. Every Aiken-area team will have played at least one game by Aug. 29, putting a premium on maximizing practice time.
The season-long marathon begins today, which in many ways is the best day of the year for every team. In between the whistles, sweat and conditioning, there will be an underlying sense of optimism. Whether teams are coming off good seasons or are starting from scratch, coaches and players are building toward the future.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 15 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
Starting times for area high school football teams on the first official day of practice
• Ridge Spring-Monetta, 7 a.m.
• Strom Thurmond, 7:30 a.m.
• Wagener-Salley, 7:30 a.m.
• North Augusta, 8 a.m.
• Silver Bluff, 8 a.m.
• Midland Valley, 8:30 a.m.
• Aiken, 9 a.m.
• South Aiken, 9 a.m.
• Williston-Elko, 9:30 a.m.
• Fox Creek, 5:30 p.m.