Teams press on despite early start

By Jeffery Armstrong

The 2004 high school football season is off to an earlier start this year, thanks to the new rules put in place by the Georgia High School Association.

The season starts on Aug. 19, a full 10 days earlier than last year and that means one thing n practices and football scrimmages begin earlier than ever before. The state championship contests are scheduled to be on Dec. 3 and 4. In the past, coaches could wait a bit if they wanted to have two-a-day practices. This year, some of the teams in the Southern Crescent are practicing three or four times a day to get prepared for the season.

The interesting thing for the Clayton County teams is that many, if not all, of them will play their first scrimmage games before the first day of school, which is slated for Aug. 9.

"It kind of puts us in a bit of a rush to get things done," said North Clayton head football coach Don Shockley. "I mean, we have a scrimmage game next week after only a week and two days of practice. We as coaches feel a small sense of urgency. The kids are just ready to play football."

The early start to the season really put the onus on teams having a great summer workout program, which Shockley felt happened at North Clayton.

"The coaching staff prepared the kids very well physically and mentally this summer," he said. "This year, we zipped through the plays. I was impressed. We are basically just highlighting the finer points of the plays this year instead of going over the entire plays."

Second-year Forest Park head football coach Howard Stearns said he isn't worried about the early start to the season. He's got his hands full trying to get his players ready for football.

"My mind's focused on practice and making sure I get my guys ready to play," Stearns said. "I've got too many other things to think about than an early start to the football season."

Stearns said that at Forest Park, his main goal is to get his players to come to practice in the first place. He said the practice attendance, as well as the players' overall attitude, has been much better in 2004 than it was last year.

Stearns said he likes this group of players, praising them for their work ethic and determination.

"I've got good parents this year who make sure that if their kids miss a practice, they'll get on them," he said. "The parents ensure that they won't miss the next one. That's a good start right there."