Sunday marked the first day high school football teams in Georgia could start practice.
Monday turned into the de facto first day of practice throughout Columbia County.
At Lakeside, senior Ben Wilson said he felt right at home as practice started at 7 a.m.
"We're excited about the season starting," said Wilson, a wide receiver and quarterback for first-year head coach Jarrett Troxler. "Not so excited about waking up early, but ready to get after it. We're looking forward to a big season."
Troxler was amped up for the first practice of the season. He said practice was running just as smoothly as it did at the end of last season, but it was different because former head coach Jody Grooms is no longer in the fold.
"It's bittersweet, because this is the first season in close to eight years that I haven't been on the field with coach Grooms," Troxler said of Grooms, who took the head football coaching job at Wayne County after last season. "It's my first head coaching job, which I've always wanted. It's been a career goal of mine."
Troxler noted that expectations are sky-high after last season's 10-2 mark and second-round playoff appearance.
Though great expectations make the job tougher, Troxler said, it's better than having a fan base that doesn't expect to win.
"It's better than being somewhere where people don't have any expectations," he said. "Here, our community has bought in big time. They love football now around Lakeside."
Troxler said the first day of practice is about gauging players' effort. It's also about identifying who will step up as a leader as the new season starts.
"We're looking to see if guys are buying in, working hard, doing all the small things right," he said.
Wilson and junior Mark Weidenaar will both be on the field for the Panthers' offense this season. The only question will be which one is under center.
On the defensive side, the Panthers will be trying to replace a number of key defenders who graduated. Last year's unit secured six shutouts.
One of those Lakeside lost is Khadi Tshishiku, a hard-hitting defensive back who will be playing at Harvard University this fall.
Troxler identified junior Luke Reeve as a player who has worked hard over the summer and could secure a spot among the starting 11 on defense.
"Out in the weight room, out here working, agility stuff like that. That's my goal, stepping up and kind of replacing Khadi," Reeve said. "I'd like to be better than him, but you know, I can only do what I can do."
Teams across Columbia County planned ahead in trying to beat the scorching heat. Lakeside opened at 7 a.m., as did Greenbrier and Augusta Christian, which also practiced in the evening. Evans opened at 8 a.m. Grovetown opted for an evening practice, opening at 6 p.m.
Harlem also held an evening practice, planned for 5:30 p.m. Coach Jimmie Lewis said the team would start at 5:30 or as soon as the heat index dipped below 101 degrees, the maximum allowed for the county's teams to be able to practice.
As it turned out, the morning offered unusually cool, overcast conditions.
"It's amazing. This is like a gift from God," Reeve said. "We're going to savor this."
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