Columbia County is still 82 days from its first football game of the 2006-07 season, but football players are already hard at work in the weight room.
Georgia High School Association rules mark Aug. 2 as the official start time for football practices this year. Local football teams can come together for morning or evening workouts and weight-lifting sessions that have long been the norm for a football player's summer.
Virtually all high school football coaches said that's where the season starts.
"It's critical for a couple of reasons," Evans football coach Marty Jackson said. "Having them lift and work out here now gets them acclimated to the heat. Back when I played we showed up Aug. 1, and it'd take two weeks to get yourself to where you could survive.
"The other thing, and the most important thing, is the unity we're getting. The kids are working out together."
The offseason preparations have become a growing concern the past few years. The weight room, once a tool exclusive to the football team, is now playing a role in all high school sports. The result is a steadily increasing problem in local high schools: space.
"Last year we had more ninth- graders lifting than ever before," Lakeside Athletic Director Randy Hill said. "This year they're 10th-graders, and they're still lifting plus we've got even more ninth-graders. It's a zoo in there at times."
The Lakeside coaching staff has seen and supervised as many as 140 athletes in the weight room over the course of one day this summer. Hill said the numbers are fantastic but could force the athletic program to consider building a new facility.
That's what Harlem High School did last summer after the two classrooms and a hallway that served as a makeshift weight room simply weren't cutting it.
"We can get 75 football players lifted in about an hour and 15 minutes," Lewis said of the new facility during its dedication in February. "We've named it the Bulldog Body Shop."
At Evans, Jackson said he and his staff are supervising more than 130 students a day in the weight room. Though no plans are in the works for a new weight-lifting facility, Jackson said the increase in participants has forced a double schedule.
"That's why we went two-tier," he said. "We're having two sessions - a morning and an evening. We work on a 36-minute shift of working out on the field and then in the weight room."
Jackson said he's also looking to add more equipment to the weight room.
Greenbrier's weight-lifting facility is only 6 years old, but space and a growing number of athletes have also forced the coaching staff to establish workout times in shifts.
Strength coach Rodney Holder said it's more than just football players in the weight room.
"We lift any of the kids that want to come," he said. "Most people wind down in the summer. We have to step it up five notches. You have to do that to compete."
The county's private schools are also looking toward the future of weight lifting.
Augusta Prep will unveil several newly built facilities this year, including a weight room. Plans are already in the works for Augusta Christian to build a new field house with a weight-lifting facility included.
Photo by J. Scott Trubey
Lakeside Middle seventh-grader Conner Verdelo (left) spots for seventh-grader Sean Gaddy in the weight room of Lakeside High. As more athletes turn to weight training, weight rooms are struggling to meet demand.[CAPTION]
Photo by J. Scott Trubey
Tirrell Williams, a sophomore defensive lineman at Lakeside High School, performs an agility drill during a morning workout at the school. Lakeside High Athletic Director Randy Hill said he has seen as many as 140 students in the weight room conditioning for fall sports, which could force the program to consider building a new facility.
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