AUSTELL — After weeks of 7-on-7 tournaments and practices with players in only shells and helmets, preseason practice began in earnest Saturday with the first permitted day of practices with pads for high schools in Georgia.
Following a week of conditioning to get players acclimated to the heat, some players donned their full uniforms Saturday and participated in live tackling drills in preparation for the season.
Entering his second season as South Cobb’s coach following a 4-6 record last year, Sherrod Rainge was excited to see his players take the field at Clay Stadium and get the opportunity to be around their teammates.
“It’s good to be back in pads,” Rainge said. “Guys look good in shorts and make the plays as they run around, but practice is different in pads. You really get to see who sticks out. The kids were aggressive and got after it. I was pleased with what I saw (Saturday).”
Rainge and his staff often looked down at their watches to make sure the drills and rest breaks followed the guidelines set by the Georgia High School Association. Cloudy skies and a little bit of rain fell to help keep temperatures down.
“We have to be mindful of the contact rules and abide by those and keep our timing on it,” Rainge said. “We had the wet bulb readings and kept track of that. It was good to get out in the morning and clouds kept the kids cool. We still took our normal breaks to replicate what practice will be like, but we were blessed with some really good weather for the first day of pads.”
Rainge liked the tempo of the Eagles’ practice Saturday, but understands that it should improve over the course of the season.
“We want it to be better and faster, but I’m not complaining,” he said. “It’s about getting the kids acclimated to being back on the field in full practice gear. We’ll get better in time. We’re not where we want to be, but it’s good to see the kids battling for positions and to see where we are.”
Pebblebrook coach Kevin Saunders also took the time Saturday to bring his team together for a fully-padded practice. One of the biggest reasons for doing so was to help the first-year Falcons coach evaluate his new players.
“I need to evaluate as much as I can before the season because I haven’t seen any of these kids in pads before,” he said. “And it was good to get them out. It’s like a rite of passage when you can put that equipment on and get on the field. It’s a day, I think, we all look forward to.”
Saunders had his team practice for roughly one hour, including an early warm-up.
“We got after it pretty quickly,” he said. “It was OK. It was a little awkward with the pads on because it had been the first time wearing them for some, and a long time ago wearing them for others. They’ll keep getting better and better, though.”
Region 4AAAAAA rivals McEachern and North Cobb were also in action Saturday. Indians coach Kyle Hockman said his players had been “chomping at the bit” to see some action.
“It’s been a long time coming. Since Dec. 6, I think,” Hockman said. “The kids have been working hard and putting in the time with pretend football stuff, so it was good idea to get out there for two hours and get some things in. It was a really good first hour-and-a-half, but the last part dragged on. It will be better next time.”