Jimmie Lewis believes football season seems to begin earlier and earlier every year.
"(The Georgia High School Association) starts the season earlier every year," said the Harlem football coach. "We're going to have games in July someday."
One of the most pressing concerns about starting the season early is making sure the student-athletes stay safe in the extreme heat.
With football practice set to begin Monday for many schools, heat-related illnesses could be a problem. Although the forecast calls for cooler weather this week, the heat index could top 100 during practices.
In recent years, a number of athletes have died during summer football practices across the country. According to a University of North Carolina study, 21 football players died from heat stroke from 1995-2001.
Korey Stringer (Minnesota Vikings) and Eraste Autin (Florida) died from heat related injuries in 2001. Devaughn Darling (Florida State) and Rashidi Wheeler (Northwestern) also died as a result of strenuous preseason workouts.
"It is different now than it was when I played," said Augusta Christian coach Bruce Lane. "Now, a lot of kids stay inside all summer in the air conditioning and try to come out a play in the heat. That is a very dangerous idea."
Greenbrier coach Mickey Derrick said that a few of his players work outside in the summer and those are the ones that handle the heat the best.
Another possibility for the rash of heat-related illnesses in recent years might be the emergence of over-the-counter performance-enhancing drugs such as creatine or ephedra.
The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of ephedra products earlier this year but creatine is still available. Creatine has been linked to heat intolerance.
"We do not push any supplement and, as a matter of fact, we basically tell them to stay away from them," said Derrick.
Regardless of players taking supplements, coaches try to counteract the possible dangers in different ways.
Most coaches hold "two-a-day" practices in the morning and evening to avoid being in the heat. This also allows a long break between practices for rest.
All the schools also have water stations available for the players.
Greenbrier used a PVC-pipe drilled with numerous holes to act as a sprinkler for up to 20 players.
"We don't allow our players to go more than 20 minutes without a break," Derrick said. "If a kid says he needs water, he gets water."
But according to Lewis, there is one way to avoid any of these problems.
"Move the season's start to September," he said. "Then we could play all the way to the end of December and not deal with all the heat."
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