Photo | Mike Kittrell
Some started as early as 7 a.m. on Monday, with others choosing to wait until the evening to get started. But each of the schools with football programs in the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) who weren’t able to begin fall practice sessions last week were certainly on the field at some point Monday, the first day they could do so.
As such, the countdown — and it’s not a long one — is officially underway for the start of the high school football season. As of today’s date (Wednesday, Aug. 3), there are only 15 days remaining until the first game of the season for teams in the Lagniappe coverage area — Gulf Shores vs. St. Michael at Fairhope Municipal Stadium. Most of the other area teams will start their seasons the following night, including Baker at Theodore, Vigor at Blount, Saraland at Daphne, Spanish Fort at Fairhope, UMS-Wright at St. Paul’s and Williamson at Mary G. Montgomery.
“Fall practice is almost a continuation of what you’re able to do in the summer,” Saraland head coach Jeff Kelly said. “So we see our guys all throughout the summer, as everybody does. The thing I want to see is you come in and you’re two weeks away from game week. You’ve been grinding and working all summer. But when you roll in there on Monday [Aug. 1] you want to see extra urgency, you want to see the ability to focus and understand what’s coming right around the corner and stack some really good days of practice together. That’s something that we’ll challenge our guys with and we definitely hope to see those guys respond — we expect them to — and it should be a good couple of weeks of preparation.”
Teams could begin practice on Monday, but must spend the first two days working out in only shorts and no equipment other than a helmet. On Wednesday, teams can don shoulder pads and on Friday they can practice in full pads for the first time.
And in this area, it’s going to be hot.
“The guys that are out here, I admire them,” Faith Academy head coach Jack French said. “As hot and tired as it makes me, and I’m not doing a whole lot, how do they feel? But they keep coming on back, and I’m real proud of them.”
Kelly added, “You have to get accustomed to the heat, you’ve got to get accustomed to playing with pads again, because that’s something you can’t do in the summer is put those shoulder pads on. They’ll bang on each other a little bit and get ready to go.”
Markus Cook is taking over as head coach at Vigor, one of 11 new head football coaches in the area, and he echoed Kelly’s statement.
“I want to see them fly around, I want to see them compete, I want to see maximum effort, I want to see that conditioning that we’ve been working on all summer,” Cook said. “ I want to see us in tempo, I want to see us be disciplined, to be able to run plays … to do all the small things that help you be a champion. We’re hitting the ground running. We’re 18 days away so there’s no time to be wasted. We’re coming in to work.”
At St. Paul’s, the Saints were on the practice field early Monday morning, and new head coach Ham Barnett said he liked what he saw from his team.
“We practiced early to beat the heat,” he said. “I just wanted to see energy and excitement and I saw that today. They are a mature group. The seniors have been with me since I came in [as the team’s defensive coordinator]. They were freshmen when I came in so I’ve got a great relationship with them. They know what I believe in and they know that I believe in them, so I expect them to go out and play hard every play and go try to win the fourth quarter and outwork our opponents.”
Davidson head coach Rick Cauley decided to hit two birds with one practice session, adding the team’s photo day to the first day of practice on Monday.
“It’s actually a little anticlimactic because we’ve been up here all summer doing some things,” he said of the first practice. “But it was good. We were able to get the practice in before the [bad] weather rolled through. The kids were excited and we had a very good picture day, which is a coach’s nightmare, but it went well. Then we had a good practice, so it was a good day.”
Cauley said he likes his team and he likes what he has seen from them thus far.
“It was kind of weird when I came in [as head coach],” he said. “The first year is always a kind of feeling-out year and the second year was COVID. Starting the third year, I think we’re all kind of finally getting to know each other and know the expectations and how I am and how the kids are. It’s like we’ve all settled in. We’re all a lot more comfortable than we’ve ever been. That helps practice and that helps everything.”
While there is a better comfort level, Cauley also noted there is a lot of work to be done and a tough schedule to be negotiated by the Warriors this season.
“You play in a tough region and in the front half of our schedule we’ve got three games that are difficult, and we know that,” he said. “We’ve had that in the past. It’s like that just kind of fell into a cycle for us. But the kids seem like they’re up for the challenge. We feel good about things. At this point, no one has worn pads for about two months, so I think every coach feels good about where they’re at right now.
“The time that you get in the summer now, you almost instill too much stuff. We’re just really looking forward to getting the pads on. Some things you can’t do without the pads or they are things you can’t do effectively. I think we have plenty of days to get ready. But because you haven’t been in pads for a while you don’t want to go out there and get crazy and get banged up.”
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