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Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Bradley Central senior Braydon Clark works on his incline bench press during Wednesday's practice.

Bradley Central seniors Braydon Clark and Javin Burke both agreed without hesitation that the best part of their high school careers has been playing under the Friday night lights at Bear Stadium.

Instead of spending Memorial Day on the lake or taking off, the Bears were the first football team in the Chattanooga area to officially get back to practice.

All three Bradley County high schools have been allowed to have their athletes participate in on-campus training starting this week, while Hamilton County programs can start back Monday. Georgia High School Association teams can begin conditioning June 8.

"The time apart definitely showed what we took for granted on a daily basis," said Clark, who carries high expectations at receiver and safety from his coaches. "The camaraderie with my teammates is what I missed the most. This is the best part about high school. We have high expectations of ourselves, and we are excited to get back to work and make those who have come before us proud."

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Bradley Central players back on football field

A return to normalcy is what Burke is looking forward to. The three-star prospect, who has received more than 20 offers from Football Bowl Subdivision programs and heavy interest from Virginia to go with offers from Southeastern Conference programs Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, totaled 2,900 yards (2,152 passing, 738 rushing) and 32 touchdowns last season.

He has one of the nation's top 100 wide receivers to throw to again in fellow senior Tray Curry, and Kanon Hall broke out for 825 yards on 38 catches for an offense that set a school record by averaging 41 points per game last season. Bradley Central has become a dangerous TSSAA Class 6A program with a 40-18 record over the past five seasons, thanks largely to consistent star power from quarterbacks Cole Copeland, Dylan Standifer and now Burke.

"I felt like this day would never come," Burke said of returning to practice with his teammates. "We are back in our natural habitat and excited to go back to work. We are going to go in and give it our all and work towards one goal together. Being back out here this week adds a lot of fuel to our fire."

During this opening week of workouts, players have been instructed to wipe down every piece of workout equipment before the next person uses it. Players and coaches have also been instructed to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other throughout the training sessions.

While there are no guarantees the coronavirus will not still delay the start of the upcoming season, the Bears are just grateful to be allowed back on the field to do what they love the most instead of still being at home.

"Hearing these kids missed football excites all of our coaches," Bradley Central coach Damon Floyd said. "Sometimes you get frustrated when you are here for long hours, but when you get away from it you realize what a great opportunity we are all in.

"We are getting the soreness out this week and starting light. We have time. What's important is getting them back around each other, laughing and having a good time as a team. When football is officially back, we will be ready."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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