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No time for an offseason

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Jonesboro two-sport standouts Patrick Petty (left) and Cameron Sutton will split the majority of their summer between the school’s football and basketball team offseason workouts. Sutton, who has several major college football offers, is also a standout on the baseball team.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Jonesboro two-sport standouts Patrick Petty (left) and Cameron Sutton will split the majority of their summer between the school’s football and basketball team offseason workouts. Sutton, who has several major college football offers, is also a standout on the baseball team.

High schools all across the Southern Crescent are officially on summer break.

Students are now free to celebrate a couple months of no homework and studies.

But for student-athletes, the summer break takes on a different meaning.

Summer break doesn’t mean an extended break for athletes — that’s unless your school’s program is a few years behind the curve.

“Back in the early days, about 20 years or so ago, you didn’t have very much going on at all in the summers,” Lovejoy football coach Al Hughes said. “But, then again, nobody had much going on back then so you weren’t getting behind. It’s not like that now.”

Hughes said that in his 35 years of coaching he has seen drastic changes in how high school athletics handle the offseasons. In his estimation, the high school offseason is undergoing an identity crisis — if not losing its identity altogether.

For the majority of football players, they get the last week of school off because of finals. But other than that, high school sports is year-round.

On Tuesday, Lovejoy will launch its annual passing league. The routine for the majority of teams in the state, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the only off days.

Under Georgia High School Association rules, the week of July 2-8 is a “dead period,” with no school-related activities.

Eagle’s Landing head football coach Joe Teknipp has been roaming the sidelines for 20 years, spending 13 of those years in Ohio and the last seven in Georgia. He said he’s following a schedule similar to Hughes, and as is the case with Hughes, Teknipp says the days of the traditional offseason for high school athletics is long gone.

“The days of taking multiple weeks off, it’s just not like that anymore,” Teknipp said. “Back in the day, we wouldn’t start getting kids back until maybe the last week in June. We would have maybe one passing tournament in July and then be off until two-a-days in August.”

And it’s not just football that is feeling the effects of the absent offseason. Mundy’s Mill’s baseball coach Patrick Smith said that anyone wanting to play baseball for the Tigers should put away their calendars and gear up for continuous work.

“Most of our guys are going to play summer baseball and fall ball once we’ve finished the regular season,” Smith said. “Once summer ball ends in July, we give them some time off in August, and the kids who don’t play football start lifting weights again in September.”

Henry County boys basketball coach Vincent Rosser says there are less breaks for his players. Rosser takes advantage of the GHSA’s one-on-two drills, which allows one coach to work with two players at the same time.

On June 5, Henry County will host a summer lead that includes three-time defending Class AAA champion Columbia and several other teams from Macon and Henry County.

“If you’re serious about your sport,” Rosser said, “if you’re really serious about basketball, there is no offseason. An offseason just doesn’t exist.”

Luella football coach Nic Vasilchek puts it this way: “In order to be competitive in Georgia, you have to make it a year-round thing. If you want to be successful, it's almost got to be an 11-month season.”

But this is not how it has always been on the high school level.

Some coaches attribute the changes to everything from college recruiting to high schools trying to mimic college and pro camp models.

Coaches say it was also created by the pressures of parents to position their kids for scholarships.

“Basically, everybody wants a scholarship right now,” Hughes said. “And who can blame them? You’re talking about a $40,000-$240,000 investment. Who’s going to tell the parents they can’t do it?”

But is it worth the cost of depriving young and still-growing bodies an opportunity to rest and recover?

“The year-round stuff is okay,” Teknipp said, “But you have to build in the down time to give the body time to recuperate. What’s bad is when the parents and club sports are pushing them harder than we’re pushing them. We try to give the kids Friday through Sunday off, but I come to my office on Saturdays and see guys on the field working out with personal trainers their dads hired.”

Both Hughes and Teknipp also agree that the last 10 years’ emergence of Internet recruiting services adds to the temptation for athletes to be obsessed with being the best.

“You’ve got kids who think they’ve got to be three-, four-, five-star players,” said Teknipp in reference to recruiting services’ rating processes. “But the greatest stat I saw was in this year’s Super Bowl, where all the players playing in the Super Bowl averaged out to be two-three stars when they were in high school. There are lots of guys who aren’t five-star athletes but good football players. I don’t push the number of stars.”

Another factor in the disappearing of the traditional offseason, according to Smith, is athletes who are choosing earlier in their careers to focus on just one sport.

“Specialization plays a huge role in this,” Smith said. “High school has become specialized just like college. Things are becoming so competitive that guys have to get in more reps. The guys I’ve had be most successful are the ones who have played only baseball all year around.”