There was no shade, no air conditioning, no mercy from Mother Nature on Monday morning at Lakeside High School.
Like every other prep squad in the state, the Panthers faced the heat on the first official day of football practice for Georgia High School Association programs.
Lakeside's players hit the practice field a little after 8 a.m., and even when the sun finally broke through the overcast sky, the Panthers still were working out under a dark cloud.
But despite an 0-10 season in his first campaign as Lakeside's head coach last year, Randy Hill shed a new light on the situation.
"Work hard to be what you want to be - region champions!" Hill told his players during an early break in practice Monday.
That's the beauty of the first week of football practices at Columbia County's four public high schools - Greenbrier, Evans, Harlem and Lakeside all start with a clean slate in 2003.
For now, Greenbrier and Lakeside are the equal of their Region 3-AAAA foes Thomson and Statesboro, teams that claimed the past two state championships.
At Evans, the Knights will enter rugged Region 7-AAAAA with new resolve, and new head coach Marty Jackson. Harlem, meanwhile, has started toiling toward another state playoff berth after being denied last season.
This week, the dangling carrot is the promise of Friday nights yet to come, wins waiting to be claimed, playoff dreams there to be fulfilled.
No one was complaining about the sweltering temperatures Monday at Lakeside. Football practice was like Christmas in July.
"The kids are all fired up. Whatever happened last year is in the past," Hill said. "We've just got to do a great job this year."
Approximately 70 Panthers were suited up, running drills and getting acclimated to the demands of watchful coaches.
Memories of a forgettable season also served a purpose.
"There's nowhere to go but up," Lakeside senior David Szerlip said. "We've learned from our mistakes from last year. We're going to keep what worked, and scratch anything that didn't work. We've been waiting for this year since we finished last season eight months ago."
Lakeside senior Sam Jasinski already is encouraged by his team's prospects this season.
"We have a hard-working bunch this year," he said. "We averaged about 50 people every day this summer (at voluntary workouts). We're ready to get started and turn things around."
As a freshman, Jasinski played for a Lakeside team that qualified for the state playoffs, and he knows what separates a playoff team from a winless team.
"There's only a few things, but they're big things," he says. "Not big in the sense that they're impossible to obtain, but big in the sense that it takes a lot of hard work to get those things. I definitely think we can do those things this year."
Finding incentive isn't part of the problem.
"When you're at the bottom of the food chain, all you can do is get hungry," Jasinski said. "When you have a season like we did last year, you see what it takes to be a winning team."
Then there are the unseen things - teamwork, attitude and heart.
"You need to have a passion," Hill told the Panthers at the end of Monday's session. "Don't dread practices and hard work. Be excited about football, and you'll get better and better every day. We're all in it together."
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