High school football practices began across the county as the first day of noncontact team practices began Wednesday for most local teams.
For the Augusta Christian Lions, the red-letter day wasn't exactly the start of the season.
"We look at our program from year to year in four segments," Augusta Christian head football coach Bruce Lane said. "The first is from the end of April to the end of July, and that includes spring football. The second is the beginning of practice to our first ball game. The third is our nonregion schedule, and then it's the regular-season region games and hopefully the state playoffs."
The Lions seem to breeze through those four segments with clockwork efficiency each season. As Columbia County's most successful team during the past five years, they've earned a 2005 SCISA Class AAA state championship trophy and a 2006 state runner-up trophy to prove it.
The Lions hope their first week of practice marked the next step toward more hardware. They're off to a good start with plenty of athletes on board.
"If we were to start a game tonight we'd start 22 guys," Lane said after a Wednesday morning practice. "Our guys know they have a chance to play."
Several high-profile starting positions are up for grabs at Columbia County's high school teams. Greenbrier and Evans return to practice with last season's starting quarterbacks still on the roster, but both schools lost their starting running backs to graduation.
At Lakeside tryouts are on for several skill positions, while Harlem looks for a new starting quarterback.
All the open positions translate into fierce competition.
"You work so much with them in the spring and summer that you sometimes have an idea of who could play where, but we're still looking to find a surprise or two," Greenbrier head football coach Scott Chadwick said. "I know we've got six or seven guys fighting for five spots on the offensive line."
The Wolfpack had a total of 139 boys show up on Wednesday for the first junior varsity and varsity practice.
Can't cut the heat
As usual, a hot August sun loomed over preseason practices last week. Along with a whistle and clip board, most head coaches kept a heat index monitor and a lightning detector nearby.
"We're at 92 degrees on the heat index right now," Harlem head football coach Jimmie Lewis said when the Bulldogs first started practice at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. "It's hot, but we're OK."
A policy set up last year by the Columbia County Board of Education requires public school teams to cancel practice if the heat index reaches above 100 degrees.
Real practices coming
Though the first football practices took place Wednesday, the teams weren't allowed to hit.
Full-contact practices aren't permitted by the GHSA until Monday, but Lakeside and Harlem can't wait until the traditional Monday-morning practice to start hitting.
The Panthers and Bulldogs will each conduct Midnight Madness practices tonight. At the stroke of midnight, both teams will gather at their respective stadiums in full pads for a night of full-contact work.
"We'll get them out there and see if they like to hit," Lewis said with a smile.
The first football game of the season is Aug. 24 when Augusta Christian travels to Orangeburg Prep. The rest of the county starts regular-season play, including the first home games of the season, Aug. 31.
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