JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – At the stroke of midnight, the clock began ticking on the high school football season.
Fletcher and Oakleaf were two of the early risers to kick off fall practice, clocking in for work at 12:01 a.m., but the bulk of local teams kicked off practice Monday morning and late afternoon to get to work for the season.
There’s no time to waste. The regular season will be here before you know it.
Kickoff classics are two-and-a-half weeks away and the regular season in Florida gets underway on Aug. 25. Georgia programs like Camden County, Charlton County, Glynn Academy and defending Class 5A state champ Ware County actually open their regular season on Aug. 18.
“I couldn’t sleep last night. It is different, especially for our seniors. We try to and I hope that all across the country, you realize how fast it goes,” said Bolles coach Matt Toblin. “So, we tell our kids all the time, make sure that they’re smelling the roses, enjoy the journey along the way because it does go really fast.”
Football is such a year-round sport now that the first day of fall practice is essentially the ceremonial date on the calendar. The first several days of practice are scaled down by design. There’s essentially a five-day acclimatization period where players wear helmets for a couple of days, then helmets, shoulder and thigh pads for three days. On the sixth day, players can wear full gear and begin full contact if coaches choose.
More than anything, the first day of fall practice is the first step towards bigger things. For a team like University Christian, that means getting back and positioned to try for another lengthy playoff run. UC was one of just three area teams to reach the state semifinals last year. But for just the second time since the turn of the century, no local team played for a state championship.
“It’s exciting to get everybody back together and they’ve been working all summer long in the weight room. And doing team activities,” said University Christian coach David Penland III. “So, it’s nice to put the ball in the air and let these guys put a helmet on. So you know, it’s definitely exciting.”
For teams like Englewood and first-year head coach Kevin Johnson, fall is the first step in building a program. Johnson is one of nearly two dozen new head coaches at area high schools this season. The Rams are spending fall practice on the baseball field while a new turf field is laid down.
“I grew up in this neighborhood, so I used to walk to school. So being back at my alma mater as I continue to say, is a dream come true,” Johnson said. “And so, for my first opportunity to lead a group of young men in my neighborhood where I’m from, where I grew up, it’s just, you can’t even explain the feeling.”