0807-First day of practice - We2 3

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka’s Terrance Thomas leads the running backs through a position drill during Tuesday’s practice.

The heat of summer has not left Elmore County yet but the first sign of fall arrived when high school football teams hit the field for the first official practice of the 2019 season. The players didn’t get into even shells until Wednesday’s practices due to AHSAA’s heat acclimation rules but that did not stop the teams from getting excited.

“The energy was really good. We got a lot of good things done (Monday),” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “It’s good to have everyone finally together and working toward the same goal.”

There was not a big difference from the summer workouts to the first two days of practice but coaches said they saw a shift in mentality once Monday arrived. Elmore County coach Jordan Cantrell said his coaching staff is focused on making sure that change happens in the first days of practice.

“The summer is organized too but there’s definitely a shift of mindset this week,” Cantrell said. “This is the first day of real practice. (Monday) was a long day but the kids had high energy and they were really mentally focused.”

Once the teams get into pads, the full extent of fall practice will get underway at the end of the week. The beginning of August provides its own excitement but when full contact begins, the players get even more into the practices.

“We’re still just in helmets so we’ve been doing all of that for a little while,” Stanhope Elmore coach Brian Bradford said. “They want to get pads on so they can hit a little bit but they’re still excited. This week is going to be fun.”

While the first practices bring extra energy to the team, it also ups the expectations and responsibilities for the players. Wetumpka coach Tim Perry said the Indians are really pushing a sense of urgency already with the first game being just over two weeks away.

“There’s no margin of error now,” Perry said. “Expectations are elevated every day. We try to talk in terms of the number of practices we have to work with. It really puts things in perspective for them.”

Perry said the players have to find a good balance between staying energized for practice while also staying focused on what needs to be done. It can be tougher for some of the younger players but each team will be looking at the senior leadership during these first two weeks of practice.

“We expect those older ones to set the excitement but maintain the focus and urgency,” Perry said. “We obviously can’t expect game day emotion in every practice but you can still hustle and stay focused on the little details every day.”

Wetumpka and Stanhope start the season in Week 0 on Aug. 23 but Holtville and Elmore County will get an extra week of practice before their regular seasons begin. Despite the extra time, Franklin said he wants to see his players ready to go as soon as possible.

“We’d love to have them ready by tomorrow,” Franklin said. “Right now, we want to put these guys through a lot to find out who can we can depend on on Friday nights. We have to find that fine line between what’s enough and what’s too much.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.