An early start: With TSSAA backing, prep teams start practice a week early
By GRANT RAMEY | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Gary Rankin started his football team on “a fine line” Monday.
For 90 minutes his Alcoa team officially started the 2013 football season on the first day TSSAA allowed programs across the state to do so — a week earlier than normal, after a vote approved a heat acclimation period for players.
At a June Board of Control meeting in June, the TSSAA approved the move to make an exception to the football sports calendar, mandating a minimum of three practices in helmets and shoulder pads, beginning as early as July 22, to help players adjust to the high temperatures that come with the start of fall camp and full pad practices.
“Helmets and shoulder pads may be worn beginning Monday, July 22, 2013,” the TSSAA board reported. “Individuals must practice in helmets and shoulder pads for a minimum of three days prior to practicing in full pads.”
For Rankin, and other Tennessee high school football coaches, the new rule and advanced date to start fall camps can be a blessing and a curse — a blessing in more work on the practice field; a curse in making for a shorter summer and, at the same time, a longer season.
“I don’t want it to get where it’s ... there can be some burnout in football if you start too early, start too hard, start too quick,” Rankin told The Daily Times Monday.
“That’s what it seemed like it did today, that’s maybe my one complaint about putting shoulder pads and helmets on today.
“I think a lot of teams started practicing,” Rankin continued, with emphasis on “practicing.”
First-year William Blount head coach Justin Ridge said it’s serving as a needed transitional period between summer passing camp workouts, the start of practice and the start of full pad work, while also replacing what can be a “monotonous” first week of pracitce.
“You cant take it up a notch from where you were during passing weeks, do a little more real football,” Ridge said. “You can start getting to your routine a lot quicker. It kind of gets a little bit monotonous with the limitations you have without shoulder pads.
“So to have those two weeks without shoulder pads, you get a lot of fundamentals in that don’t require contact. Then you can transition into what you’re going to be doing in full pads. It’s a nice little transitional piece that was missing before.”
Teams are allowed “15 days of practice (no pads) permitted, 10 of which may involve practice with another school,” between the end of the summer dead periods and Monday, week of August 1, per TSSAA rules.
The acclimation period isn’t necessarily a new move, Rankin said, referring to a similar TSSAA rule from the past that was changed after teams started doing a little too much work during the summer months.
“They used to have that rule a long time ago anyway,” he said, “that rule that the first three days of practice you had to be in shorts, helmets and cutoffs (t-shirts). Then they dropped it.
“I think they dropped that because so many people we’re doing that in the summer.”
The first official day for full pad practice is Monday, four weeks ahead of Week Zero and the official start of the prep football season’s 10-game schedules across the state.
“Summers are getting shorter and shorter, that’s what it seems like, and I don’t want it to keep eating into the kids’ summers,” Rankin said.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to play a lot of games in the playoffs, so you can’t come at it going full force for 20 weeks like that. I think there’s a fine line you have to walk.”