Monday was the first day of practice for Georgia High School Association football teams, but in Columbia County, it's never too early to give a pep talk.
"We've got to score some points this year - we have to get the ball into the end zone," Lakeside coach Randy Hill implored his troops Monday. "We have to have as much intensity on defense as we do on offense. The Panther Division has to get ready to roll!"
During the opening week of practices, players will work on conditioning - physically, the key is to acclimate to the hot weather and grueling workouts; mentally, the task is to condition the mind to expect success.
Along with doing offensive and defensive drills, teams are busy setting goals and assessing personnel.
And it's not too soon to start sizing up opponents.
Hill, a long-time Lakeside assistant in his first season as head coach, inherits a squad depleted by graduation. The Panthers posted a 4-6 record under coach Ed Koester in 2001.
"We have a hard road ahead of us to get these kids ready. We're just young puppies hoping to grow up quick," Hill said. "We don't have much experience out there, and that could be good, because sometimes that makes them hungrier. We'll take our knocks, we just have to keep getting better and better."
All GHSA football teams shared a common trait this week - a clean slate. That means Evans can forget about a 1-9 struggle last season, and the Knights can work toward brighter days in 2002.
"It's going to be a better year for us, because we're an older football team; we're more mature," Evans coach Lee Chomskis said.
The Knights have moved from Region 4-AAAAA to 7-AAAAA this season, which will decrease travel, but won't make winning any easier.
"We're in a very athletic region. I don't think there will be a team in our region that we'll be faster or bigger than," Chomskis said.
Players can't wear full gear until next Monday, which is the first day the GHSA allows full-contact practices, but at Greenbrier, the Wolfpack has already taken a beating.
Jones County, Baldwin and Cross Creek joined Region 3-AAAA this year, which prompted the head coaches from the 11-team region to draw out two region teams to complete a region schedule.
Each coach drew two names from a hat, and those teams would be dropped from the eight-game region schedule - the Pack drew Glenn Hills and Cross Creek, both of which were winless in region action last year.
Lakeside drew Statesboro, the defending Class AAAA champion, and Jones County, the defending Region 4-AAAA champion. The Panthers will not have to play either of those powerhouses this season.
"The schedule was just luck of the draw, and we didn't draw out too good," Greenbrier coach Mickey Derrick said. "We just have to live with it. Every region game is going to be important to us."
The Harlem Bulldogs also will see some changes in Region 3-AAA.
"The key is the impact Josey is going to have," Jimmie Lewis said of the region newcomer. "It's going to be interesting. It's a good region, but a region I think we'll compete in."
Harlem should have some confidence - the Dogs are coming off back-to-back state playoff berths, and are shooting for another visit to the postseason this fall.
"We're anticipating a pretty good year," Lewis said. "We have a good bunch of kids coming back. The main deal is to find two or three linemen, because we lost some pretty good linemen."
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