Opening day for the 2017 Sampson County football season is right around the corner, and preparations by local high school teams are now underway with practices being held across the county.
Many different factors about a team can be seen before the season starts, highlighting the importance of practice, especially in the summer when battling the heat. Each school has been preparing in their own way.
Clinton Dark Horses head coach Bob Lewis hadn’t touched the field much with his team before official practices started, concentrating mostly on the weight room and conditioning to avoid dealing with the heat. Even with practice officially started, Lewis has his team on the field at 6 p.m. to keep them out of the heat.
“I don’t do a lot on the field before official practices start. The main thing I want my guys doing is being in the weight room,” said Lewis. “I encourage them to go out on the field on their own before official practices start, so if you drive by the school you’ll see guys out there on their own all the time.”
“They’ve already got tons of practice and games to play during the season so there is no reason to add extra practices to that during these hot days,” said Lewis. “As long as they’re in the weight room before official practices start, I’m happy.”
The Hobbton Wildcats have been steadily getting ready for big events coming up, most notably the 27th annual Sampson County Football Jamboree.
“During the summer we have been having conditioning three days a week,” said head coach Robert Hill. “We would lift for an hour and then go outside and do some conditioning in the afternoon. When the heat index is really high, we try to stay indoors. I think it is a county policy that we stay inside — that was the case for two or three days.”
“The heat hasn’t really hampered our preparation for the Jamboree,” Hill continued. “I know we are going to have some hot days coming up, but as far as what we’ve had so far, it hasn’t caused us any problems.”
Lakewood High School is in the process of trying to fill voids in the offseason. After losing 21 seniors last year, the Leopards are working to build skill players while beating the heat.
“Our biggest challenge will be finding quality replacements at the skill positions,” said head coach James Lewis. “We had 21 seniors last year, one of the biggest classes ever at Lakewood. We feel that if we develop some kids at those spots we should be OK.”
“Heat is always a concern, however we take the health and safety of our players very seriously,” said Lewis. “If the kids do their part and stay hydrated, it is something that we feel like we can deal with. We try to get them acclimatized to the conditions and they usually adapt pretty well.”
After being the surprise team from last year, the Union Spartans are getting ready for the 2017 season with one of the biggest turnouts they’ve had in awhile.
“Practice is off to a great start this year,” said head coach Doug Burley. “We have had more kids out there than we have had come out in many years. They are really working hard.”
He said the heat really hasn’t been a factor.
“What heat? We have really been lucky so far this year in that the weather and temperatures have really cooperated,” said Burley. “It really has not been that hot considering it is August in Sampson County.”
The Midway Raiders are also working with a young team this season as they only have four returning player on each side of the ball for offense and defense.
“Football practice has been going well. So far we have 72 out for football this year,” said head coach Jason Fussell. “We have 41 on our JV team and 31 on varsity. We will be young and moving some upperclassmen around to positions they haven’t played very much. We look forward to the season — hope we can improve each week.”
Harrells Christian Academy is not only dealing with just four returning players on both sides of the ball, but are also under first year head coach Jason Arnette. Early morning practices seems to be the routine Arnette is taking to beat any heat concerns.
“The first thing to establish is trust and realize that it’s not given, but earned,” said Arnette. “That’s why I’m always out there with my guys from the weight room, conditioning or practice, no matter what they’re doing. These group of guys are good kids and they are really working hard.”
Practices start at 8 a.m., the coach said.
“The goal is to do it in the mornings so that we can beat the heat,” remarked Arnette. “The most important thing to beating the heat though is making sure our players are doing whatever is necessary for them to ensure that they are taking care of themselves.”
Reach Sports Editor Michael Hardison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @SampsonInd.