When football coaches tell you the schedules are getting tighter and tighter, they aren’t lying.
Although team workouts begin this week, high school teams in Georgia aren’t allowed to begin practice in full pads until next Saturday, Aug. 1. Two weeks later, four of the six teams in Forsyth County will play scrimmages either one or two weeks out from their season openers.
Forsyth Central will play a friendly at North Forsyth on Aug. 14, while South Forsyth will compete at Winder-Barrow and West Forsyth will host Carrollton in warm-up games.
Central, North, Pinecrest, and West will not play their true season openers until Aug. 28, but South will open Aug. 21 at home against Mountain View, while Lambert will open the same night at Lanier.
Nevertheless, coaches have been in a crunch preparing their teams with less than a month of official practices to work with. They’ve also had to adapt to new contact rules implemented by the Georgia High School Athletic Association to limit the amount of collisions during practice time.
Full-contact during preseason practice will only be allowed for a total of 135 minutes per week, no more than 45 minutes per day and never more than two consecutive days. Violating these rules can result in a fine anywhere between $500 and $2,500 on a first offense and probation for a second.
Forsyth Central coach Shane Williamson, heading into his third year with the program, said that while the rules have helped guarantee the elimination of hypothetically unnecessary practice conditions, much of the new regulations don’t effect what coaches in the state have done, conventionally, in the past.
“The biggest difference really is that we, as coaches, have to submit an organized practice schedule on file that shows how often we’re doing live contact,” Williamson said. “I think it’s a good rule and holds people accountable, but I don’t really know of any coaches still scrimmaging past those rules. It’s a lot like the way colleges are practicing these days, too.”
South Forsyth coach Jeff Arnette sees things from the other side of the coin.
“There are so many rules, there’s no way I could tell you all of them off the top of my head,” Arnette said. “To be honest, in my opinion, it might be a little overboard, but it is what it is.”
Arnette said the quick turnaround between Aug. 1 and the scrimmage against Winder-Barrow is tough, but not unheard of, either.
“That’s always a challenge, getting a team together that quick,” Arnette said. “The seasons start quicker and quicker. It’s challenging on our coaches and players. Every minute of every practice is important.”
Coaches have found ways to make up more time, though the avenue for summer team building varies from program to program.
Arnette took his players to a 7-on-7 camp at Lassiter High School earlier this month, competing in a 24-team field. Seven-on-7 tournaments, also known as passing camps, are designed to freely and safely put skill position players in competition during the offseason.
South defeated host Lassiter, who eventually won the tournament, 28-27, and also faced region foe Alpharetta. Chattahoochee and Centennial, also members of Region 6-AAAAAA, competed in the tournament as well. Despite getting a look at his future opponent’s most skilled athletes, Arnette said it “didn’t mean a whole lot.”
“You can’t tell a whole lot when you’re just passing and there’s no offensive or defensive line,” Arnette said. “It’s just a good way to keep your kids competing.”
Williamson took his team back to a different style of camp that worked out well for him last season, when the Bulldogs finished 6-4 to have their first winning record since 2001. The Bulldogs recently traveled to West Georgia for an 11-on-11 camp, which allowed for padded repetitions and a more authentic football practice environment.
“You’re in pads, helmets. You can’t hit below the waist, but it’s still 11-on-11,” Williamson said. “But the bigger thing was just getting our team together, out to another environment where they have to build chemistry and a culture. Just getting away from every day activities and having the opportunity for the kids to gel is huge.”