OAKWOOD — Johnson High football coach Paul Friel stayed busy watching his quarterbacks throw, receivers run exact routes and lineman work on blocking technique Friday as high school football practice opened.
He also kept a careful eye on his players to make sure they were getting plenty of water during frequent breaks as the Knights practiced in the early afternoon at the school’s practice field.
With temperatures hovering around 88 in South Hall and a heat index in the upper 90s, it was important to put an appropriate focus on the weather.
Players will spend the first three days of practice wearing shorts and T-shirts before wearing full pads beginning next Wednesday.
Coaches know it is part of the balancing act to watch the heat index and still optimize practice time.
"It was a great day for practice," Friel said. "At this stage we’re trying to set the tempo and I liked the hustle our guys demonstrated today."
The Hall County schools district has strict guidelines in place that govern participation in sports with regard to the temperature and heat index. The first day of practice warranted a heat index level yellow (heat index 95-99 degrees), which calls for practice to run no longer that two hours and a break to re-hydrate at least every 20 minutes.
Johnson’s certified athletic trainer Christine Lytton watched the heat index at their practice on a stop watch-looking devise as the Knights ran through drills.
She said there were no heat-related problems with Johnson players who began the countdown with 27 days remaining until opening day against North Hall at The Brickyard.
"What I try to stress to the players is to replenish fluids with plenty of water and Gatordade, and to eat well with lots of fruits and vegetables," Lytton said.
The most severe heat index is a level black, which means there is a heat index greater than 105 and automatically means outdoor practice is banned.
At that point, coaches have to make alternative practice plans with work indoors or in the weight room. That scenario came into effect several times last summer. Whether they practiced in the morning, afternoon or evening, however, coaches got in their first day of work this summer without a glitch.
"I didn’t even have to look at the temperature today because it was pretty comfortable," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said referring to his team’s morning practice session. "Our team is in very good shape and today’s first day of practice went about as good as I’ve ever had."
Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw took his team to weekend camp in Toccoa and spent the first day with morning and evening practices.
"I liked the tempo we practiced with today and I think it helps that our players have already been in the heat a lot this summer," Shaw said. "So far, so good."
Without moderate temperatures across the area Friday, the primary focus was on making the transition from offseason speed work and conditioning to working on football, Christmas said.
"I liked that our players were really focused," Christmas added. "I saw all the intangibles that I like to see, which is what makes the coaching staff excited to start practicing."
Most coaches are spending these early days in August looking for the building blocks to implement a successful gameplan for the fall.
"I think we got everything done today that we wanted to do for our first day of practice," Shaw said. "It was a very good tempo."