First day of practice more about paperwork than drills
The first day of high school football practice in West Virginia traditionally brings gratification to thousands of fans and players who have waited since the previous autumn to return to the field.
Heat, helmets and hitting, all the things that so many fans love to romanticize about preseason practices return each August. The proliferation of midnight practices conducted by teams in recent years has only added to the buildup to the start of the season.
The three “H”s will be there, all in good time. The first day, South Charleston coach Donnie Mays explained, is a bit more bureaucratic than that.
“The first practice takes forever. We have to pass out all kinds of things, equipment and things like that that we normally don’t have to deal with,” said, who is entering his second year as the Black Eagles’ coach.
“We have to make sure everybody’s physical is lined up and their insurance papers are turned in, all that kind of stuff,” he said.
The lack of a scheduled equipment night, where players would be issued their helmets, pads and workout gear that typically includes shorts and a T-shirt referred to as a “team pack” requires that those issuances take place prior to the team hitting the field the first day of practice.
“There’s so much administrative work that takes away from it,” Mays said. “You wish that you could go straight in there and practice, but that’s not the case.”
So while fans are interested in items such as the number of players each team had show up for the first day of preseason camp, some coaches can only supply an informed answer by counting physical forms submitted by the end of the day.
“I didn’t even count,” Mays said when asked the number of Black Eagle players on hand for practice. “I know that we have quality over quantity, and that’s what we’re interested in.”
Kanawha County schools begin class Aug. 11, meaning that eight of the 12 Kanawha Valley teams will only get one week of two-a-day workouts. That puts a premium on practice time, Mays said. Putnam County begins class one week later, on Aug. 18.
Mays spent most of the first day working with the Black Eagle linemen. The team returns all five starters on its offensive line from a 7-4 finish in 2013 but the coach acknowledged it is the spot where the team most needs to improve.
“That’s where we need to grow,” Mays said. “We always have an idea that we’re going to have a little bit of skill. Last year, I can’t even tell you how many practices we went and (linemen) stayed extra just to get things done.
“We had four sophomores and a freshman and now having four juniors and a sophomore makes a world of difference,” Mays said. “The emphasis is always with the line. The line wins football games.”
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CAPITAL COACH Jon Carpenter said he thinks the Cougars might be better off in 2014 than what a roster sheet could lead some to believe.
“I don’t think we’re going to be as shiny, but we’re going to be more solid,” the fifth-year coach said Sunday evening, less than 12 hours before the start of the Cougars’ first practice session.
The Cougars (11-2 in 2013) lost Hunt Award winner James Walton, second-team All-State defensive lineman Jaisson Dyer and numerous other defensive starters to graduation. While Capital will miss the big-play capabilities of several of those players, Carpenter said the personality of the defense will certainly change, but that its production could actually improve compared to a year ago.
“We had some guys who would make big plays but take plays off on occasion that would hurt us,” Carpenter said. “They’d say, ‘Coach, I made this play or that play,’ and I’d have to remind them of the six they gave up. This group is more likely to make the play you need to make on every down.”
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NITRO’S DEREK Midkiff hopes the Wildcats’ improved dedication to offseason weight room work produces results worthy of upgrades made to the locker room and weight room at Underwood Field.
“The biggest progress we’ve made is that we’re a whole lot stronger than what we were last year,” said Midkiff, who is entering his third year as Nitro’s coach.
“We’ve had our best offseason work program as far as kids buying in and kids showing up and getting it done,” he said. “I’m excited about that. I think we’re going to be able to compete up front for the first time, really.”
Nitro finished 1-9 last year and has regularly been pushed around up front by opposing teams for several years running.
“The previous two years we were outmatched in most games, and I don’t think that will be the case this year,” Midkiff said. “We’ve got some kids that can get up there and compete and they’ve been starting. This will be their third or fourth year up there.”
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FIRST SCRIMMAGES of the preseason will take place the weekend of Aug. 15-16, with most teams participating in a second scrimmage a week later. The regular season is scheduled to begin Thursday, Aug. 28, when George Washington visits South Charleston. The Daily Mail Preseason Poll will be released Monday, Aug. 18.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at email@example.com or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter at @ItsreallyDT. Daily Mail sportswriter Tom Bragg contributed to this report.