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Area football teams preparing for official start of practices
Flowery Branch cornerback Corey Sanderson, right, pursues receiver Christian Howell during a 7-on-7 football practice on Tuesday. - photo by SARA GUEVARA | The Times


Listen to Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller discuss the Red Elephants' offseason on Monday.


Listen to Flowery Branch football coach Lee Shaw discuss the Falcons' offseason on Monday.


Listen to East Hall football coach Bryan Gray discuss the Vikings' offseason on Monday.

Gainesville High football coach Bruce Miller isn’t trying to make friends during the offseason.

He’s trying to build a playoff-caliber football team.

The Red Elephants coach, who has led his team to seven straight playoff appearances, understands the importance of offseason training.

“The biggest thing is to at least maintain strength, if not gain strength,” Miller said.

On Aug. 1, the season officially begins. Teams finish summer workouts and conditioning, and move on to full-fledged practices. Uniforms are handed out, depth charts take shape and the excitement at the school and in the community builds.

But the time between now and then is not being wasted. For many schools the last remaining weeks of the offseason is a combination of different drills and team workouts used to tweak the team to perfection for Friday night.

“We spend one-third of our time in the weight room, one-third on speed drills and conditioning and one-third getting the basics covered,” Miller said.

For other teams, such as East Hall, the next three and a half weeks aren’t about perfecting, but a continuing learning experience for the many young players on this year’s Vikings.

“We spend a lot of time during the summer to teach the fundamentals,” East Hall coach Bryan Gray said. “Since we have so many kids that don’t have a football background in this community, we teach them before we start playing this fall.”

The offseason is essential to the success of East Hall. With limited experience and such little time between the first day of practice and the first game, training continues all the way until the end of July.

“The last month is when you lay your foundation down,” Gray said. “We have to make sure our team is fundamentally mature.”

Despite Gainesville and East Hall’s opposite approaches to the final weeks of the offseason, the teams’ coaches, along with other local coaches, tend to agree that the best time for improvement is before the season even begins.

“The offseason is about little tangibles in the weight room and in team chemistry” Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw said. “Specific goals are set on and off the field.”

For Shaw, the offseason means transforming his team from a region runner-up and a first round playoff exit into a first-time region champion with a longer postseason.

“The kids are putting in as many hours as in the past,” Shaw said. “They’re working as hard as any team I’ve been with.”

Every summer, the Falcons begin their “Summer Sacrifice”, the name given to their strength training and conditioning schedule. During these workouts, Shaw separates the team into different groups, with one working on strength training and the other on agility and speed drills. The smaller groups allow new players to display their skills and fight for a roster spot.

“We lost some good players, but the younger guys are stepping up,” Shaw said. “We still have a lot of improvement, no matter what team we have coming back.”

The final weeks of the offseason are also when the intensity of the workouts increase. In Miller’s schedule, Gainesville workouts are conducted in almost the same fashion as a regular-season session by the end of July.

“Right now is when you start seeing a really big push to get ready for the season,” Miller said. “We want to have everything installed by the time practice starts.”

But when intensity increases, so does excitement, as players and coaches anticipate their season opener.

“The players are getting really excited,” Shaw said. “They’re on a mission, and they’re really focused."

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