Time was dragging Sunday night for Harlem High School football coach Jimmie Lewis, and he wasn't alone.
His players were waiting restlessly in the locker room, and anxious Bulldog fans were starting to gather outside.
Lewis asked assistant coach Dietmar Perez for a time check, and Perez answered back "11:56."
"This will be the longest four minutes of your lives," Lewis told his Dogs.
Then, as the clock struck midnight, the Harlem football team made its way to the practice field for its first full-contact practice of the 2003 season.
Harlem assistant coach Dietmar Perez watches players perform tackling drills during Midnight Madness practice.
Photo by Mike Howell
The Georgia High School Association's 2003 rules stated that football teams could not work out in full gear until July 28, and Harlem didn't waste a second.
One minute into Monday morning, the Dogs sprinted out, did some stretching, and then came the moment of truth.
"It's fun just coming out here and hitting at a weird hour of the day. There was some pretty good hitting out here," Harlem senior Jordan Whitaker said. "This helps the team get pumped up on the first day. We're doing something not many teams do."
Along with Harlem, the Lakeside and Evans high school football teams also held midnight practices on the GHSA's first day for full contact on the gridiron.
"The sooner we can see how much they want to hit, the quicker we can make assessments and get the best 11 out there," Lewis said.
Harlem has held Midnight Madness for four years now, and the thrill hasn't worn off.
"I love it, the coaches love it and the players love it. It's become a tradition," Lewis said. "This has got us excited about football, and that's what we needed. The program was kind of dull, nobody was fired up about football. I think these guys have a little fire going and we're just trying to keep it going."
While some of the Dogs were veterans of Midnight Madness, the newcomers were getting their first taste of football under the lights.
"I didn't figure we'd be doing this in high school," Harlem freshman Alex Hintz said. "It makes me feel special, like I'm playing for something. Everybody's been jumping up and down ready to hit."
Midnight Madness wasn't just mindless mayhem. As the Dogs bared their teeth during the Oklahoma tackling drill, Harlem coaches interspersed instruction such as "Wrap your arms! Wrap your arms!" and the always useful "Put your mouthpiece in!"
A large group of spectators soaked it all in. Several former Harlem players had seen it all before, but they gladly sacrificed an early bedtime to see the show.
According to Lewis, none of the current players' parents have a problem with the odd hours.
"They're all for it, and I think that's because their kids are out here on this football field," Lewis said. "A lot of kids are out on the street at this time of night. I think the parents see we're doing good things with their kids."
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