This is the first day for Tennessee high school football players to begin practicing in pads, but it also signals the beginning of teacher in-service for public schools.
As a result, many coaches reluctantly have shelved the time-honored policy of practicing twice a day in pads. Instead, they'll begin practices in mid-afternoon when they've completed classroom preparations.
"It's going to be interesting," Red Bank coach Tim Daniels said. "The way the calendar falls, I don't know if it's something that changes in the future."
Daniels has never begun a football season without two-a-days in pads.
"My concern is the time we have to get players acclimated to the heat with all the equipment on," he said. "It isn't so much the beatdown from contact but from a combination of the heat and the pads."
The old schedule basically remains unchanged in neighboring states. Ridgeland's Panthers, for example, leave this afternoon for three days of camp -- and two-a-day practices. The Rossville school doesn't begin classes until Sept. 1, so the Panthers already will have played a game before students officially show up.
"Two-a-days are very important for us this year because we're so young and have so many spots to fill," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. "It's good to get away and do nothing but football. You find out who can play. It sets the tone for the season. We do as much team bonding as X's and O's."
Local private schools also will have at least some two-a-days. Those include Chattanooga Christian, which leaves today for several days of camp, and Notre Dame, which was to have its first pads practice at 6 this morning.
Many Tennessee teams have been going through two-a-day practices in shorts and helmets while also participating in 7-on-7 passing leagues. Hixson coach Houston White even had camp on campus last week with the Wildcats bringing sleeping bags and spending the nights in the locker room.
White adopted a positive outlook, although he is enough of an old-school coach to feel that something is missing without two-a-days in pads.
"The old school in me wants that hitting and the time in pads, and this [change] surely cuts into your time to evaluate kids in pads," he said, "but there is less physical contact so there's probably less chance for injury."
He said, though, that it's a catch-22 regarding injuries and decreased practice time in pads.
"The kids are maybe not as well-conditioned as they might be if they were going more in pads, but they're also pounding less on each other," White said. "We're probably going to be fresher because there should be less wear and tear."
Howard plays its first game on Aug. 19, thus cutting the Hustlin' Tigers' conditioning and time in pads by a week compared to teams that don't begin their seasons until Aug. 26.
"It's going to be different," first-year coach Michael Calloway said. "Playing Week Zero is going to make it tough. We have to make sure we get the kids in shape and I don't think any of them are there right now, especially with the dead period in [early] July."
No contact between coaches and athletes was allowed during that period.
Calloway plans to extend his lone afternoon practice. That raises his concerns about injuries.
"We had some kids get hurt last year, and a lot of times you have to depend on them to tell you," said Calloway, who will be without a trainer for practices. "But if we see anybody that seems to be winded, we're going to take it seriously."
Central is the fourth head coaching stop for John Allen, and he has yet to have two-a-day practices.
"I never liked them and I decided long ago to go a different route. We go at night under the lights," he said. "You don't have to worry about the heat index, and this way gives them all day to be a kid and gives our coaches time to spend with their families during the day."
East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood is considering a similar approach.
"I have never gone without two-a-days in my life, as a player or as a coach, but we'll be looking at the heat index," he said. "What we're considering is sending the kids home when they get out of school (2:45) so they can get homework out of the way and then bringing them back in to practice from 8 to 10.
"But it isn't any hotter now than it has been in the past. The problem is that we're starting earlier than we used to, and so many kids are geared to air-conditioning. If we were in the heat all the time, this wouldn't be a concern."
As one example outside Hamilton County, Bradley Central also does not plan two-a-days in pads.
"We'll go about three hours in the evening and be done," Bears coach Damon Floyd said. "Our biggest concern is getting [all plays and schemes] in, and then the way the schedule fell we lost a week that would have been an extra week in pads. Now you go in pads and there are heat issues. You play in the heat but you can't practice in it, and you're still trying to get [players] acclimated to the combination of heat and pads."
The best thing, Daniels said, is that all of the public schools are in the same situation.
"It's going to be trial and error and do what you can do," he said.
Ward Gossett is an assistant sports editor and writer for the Times Free Press. Ward has a long history in Chattanooga journalism. He actually wrote a bylined story for the Chattanooga News-Free Press as a third-grader. He Began working part-time there in 1968 and was hired full time in 1970. Ward now covers high school athletics, primarily football, wrestling and baseball and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wrestling. Over a 40-year career, he has covered ...
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