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No time to waste as area football teams prepare for coming season
Gainesville High head coach Bruce Miller works with his players during the Red Elephants’ practice Friday morning on the school’s field.

The first few days of high school football practice turn into an unbelievable time crunch for coaches and players. They’re all wanting to start strong in hopes of getting the regular season going in the right direction at the end of the month.

“I really enjoy the start of practice,” West Hall coach Tony Lotti said. “It’s another sign we’re getting close to playing.

“The first game of the season is coming fast, whether you’re ready or not.”

The Spartans host Johnson in the season opener on Aug. 23.

On Thursday, it was an all day process for coaches, fulfilling coaching and program administration duties, ranging from keeping practice running on schedule to accommodating program sponsors and boosters.

Before taking the field, coaches also had to make sure all player physicals were properly completed and on file. Some even spent time working with middle school programs.

The Georgia High School Association has strict rules about practice schedules, not allowing two-a-day practices in back-to-back days, leaving every school with wildly different schedules to get in the most productive work in the time allowed.

“The first days of practice are always hectic,” said second-year Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin. “It doesn’t matter if it’s your second year or 32nd year coaching.”

Even though it’s a busy time wherever you go, North Hall coach Bob Christmas has this time of the year down to a science. He says the start of practice is just an extension of the summer conditioning program. Entering his 38th season as a head coach, Christmas says he still gets excited to watch players feed off the energy in practice. His only concern is the long stretch before the team scrimmages for the second consecutive season on Aug. 23 at Salem (Va.).

“We’ve been working together all summer, so we feel like we’re clicking pretty well at this point,” Christmas said. “And all the players were excited to get out there and start practicing, but after a couple days, maybe not so much.”

Flowery Branch is spending the first weekend of practice at camp in Toccoa, an extension of what the program did for years under longtime coach Lee Shaw.

“We try to get out there and wring out as much practice time together as possible,” Griffin said.

Many programs hit the practice field with momentum like never before. Gainesville is back from its 2012 state title in Class AAAAA and returns the state’s all-time leading career passer, Deshaun Watson, at quarterback.

Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller knows that it’s important to be productive in practice with two very tough games to start the regular season: West Forsyth on Aug. 30 in Cumming, then the defending Class AAA state champ Buford the following week at City Park Stadium.

On the first day of practice, Miller cautioned his players about the dangers of feeling satisfied about past success, even though many of his key players were starting last season too.

“Practice has gone great so far, very smooth,” Miller said. “It’s just good to see real football start back up again.”

The Trojans, 11-3 last season and a state semifinalist in Class AAA, also look poised to go deep again this season with a large group of returning starters. Andrew Smith, a senior, takes over full-time starting quarterback duties as North Hall starts to prepare to run a more triple-option based offense.

“We have 23 seniors and they played a lot last season,” Christmas said.

Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell says the start of practice has been equally exciting for his program, looking to keep the momentum going after playing its first home playoff game in school history in 2012.

Like others, the War Eagles, 8-3 last season, conditioned together throughout the summer and were happy to make the transition into pads.

“Football is a physical game and there’s no substitute for being able to practice in pads,” Luttrell said.

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