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Prep football: Practice makes perfect
Teams preparing for 2008 season with today's first official day of practice
Members of the 2008 Jackson County Panthers walk toward the practice field shortly after 12 a.m. this morning. Panthers coach Billy Kirk called a midnight practice as a way to get his team excited about the upcoming season. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Area football teams have been working all summer in preparation for this: The first day of practice, and the chance to put on a helmet and pads and hit each other.

With most teams’ first game a mere 28 days away, summer was spent preparing for the month of preseason practice.

“The summer has gotten to be so involved,” Gainesville High coach Bruce Miller said. “We’ve been doing so much with passing leagues and conditioning and weights.

“The kids are used to coming out everyday, but now, they get to get on shoulder pads and see what real football looks like.”

Jackson County, which went winless in 2007, got an early jump on real football by holding a midnight practice.

“While everyone else is sleeping, we’ll be practicing,” Panthers coach Billy Kirk said.

“We told our kids we’re going to be one practice ahead all year long,” Kirk said in reference to his team’s practice which began at 12 a.m. and lasted for about two hours. “This gives us an opportunity to set the tone going into the season.”

The Panthers hold their second practice tonight at 7 p.m.

Since June, upwards of two days a week, teams have worked on conditioning and strength and agility training.

“Preseason conditioning is important and you have to step it up the closer you get to practice,” second-year Banks County coach Blair Armstrong said. “You don’t want kids hitting a wall when they put on a helmet and pads.”

They’ve attended team camps and participated in passing leagues, all in an effort to be one step ahead of the competition.

“We played against 5-A schools in the passing leagues,” said West Hall sophomore quarterback Shunquez Stephens. “We did really good against them.”

The ability to play as a team over the course of the summer during camps and in passing leagues wasn’t just a tool to bolster confidence, but also served a strategic purpose.

“We put in a lot of schemes so we can hit the ground running at the start of practice,” Lakeview coach Matthew Gruhn said.

The Lions, entering their second year as a program, will be part of Region 8-A and play a full varsity schedule in 2008 after going undefeated as a junior varsity team in 2007.

“Summer’s over and it’s the real deal,” Gruhn said. “Everyone’s excited, but we will treat the first day of practice this year like a normal day, we’ll practice like we always do.”

Armstrong’s Banks County squad is ready for the official start of the season for a different reason.

“Our kids have been excited,” Armstrong said. “We didn’t feel like we finished last season like we could have so the guys are ready to go.”

The Leopards finished the 2007 season with a 5-6 mark, missing the playoffs as a result of their lone loss in the subregion, a 42-28 rout by Fannin County.

“We’ve been working really hard this summer to try and not only ensure a winning season, but get to the playoffs,” Armstrong said. “That would be huge for this program.”

Regardless of specifics, the simple fact that football season is starting is enough of a reason to get excited.

“It’s fun to see kids starting to compete,” Miller said. “It’s a time when you get to see them translate all the weight room work and conditioning work into earning a starting position or earning playing time.”

“I can’t wait to see how the season turns out and how the team looks,” Stephens said.
“I’ve been waiting on this all summer.”

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