August may be a time for vacations for many, but for high school football teams throughout Northern Virginia, work is just beginning.
All across the area, high schoolers have donned their pads once again for summer practice, and the excitement for the upcoming season is reaching a fever pitch.
“The first day of football practice, for me, is like Christmas Day,” said Chris Haddock, head coach for Centreville High School. “The best part about that is that you get up and you’ve got that excitement, and then for the next couple weeks, you get to play with your new toys.”
The twice-daily practices held by each team, commonly known as “two-a-days,” can be grueling, but their difficulty is meant to strengthen each squad’s resolve for the season.
“The two-a-days are typically designed to be pretty tough, so that once the season starts, you’re not spending as much time on fundamentals,” said Mike Dougherty, head coach for Stonewall Jackson High School. “You often find my pregame speech going back to days like today.”
For the players, the rigors of summer practice are an annual tradition.
“We just have a spirit here that we’ve always done two-a-days, we’re probably always going to do two-a-days,” said Josh Lakey, a left tackle at Battlefield High School. “We know they’re going to be hard, but we know it’s what makes us a great team.”
While the practices are meant to build the players’ endurance, they’re also crucial for reinforcing the sport’s fundamentals.
“We lost a lot of talent, so you’ve got to reteach fundamentals to a bunch of kids,” said Matthew Burrell, quarterbacks coach for Stonewall. “The fundamental part of it is pretty easy to do, it’s just a couple steps here and there, and the rest is just athleticism.”
Summer training camp is also a key time to break in new players.
“Practice has been rough so far, we have a whole bunch of news kids, young kids,” said Mark Cox, Battlefield’s head coach. “We graduated a lot of good players who have been in the program for a long time, so we’re having to re-teach a whole lot of things over again. Every position is open right now.”
The intensity of the August heat often makes these practices particularly challenging, but the weather this year has been uncharacteristically cooperative. These mild temperatures could be dangerous if the heat returns.
“We’ve been fortunate that the weather hasn’t been hot, but it may come back to haunt some people if it does get hot,” Cox said.
Whatever the weather, enduring the exhausting workouts each day requires a dedication to the sport, for both the coaches and players.
“Coming out here says they love it to the point that they would pretty much run through a wall,” Burrell said. “It says a lot for the coaches to come out there every day, because we’re out there sweating and screaming at the kids, and the fact that they still come back shows they love it.”
A love for football is necessary for kids to choose the hard work over the temptations of summer, Haddock said.
“A lot of these guys’ classmates are still at the beach and still on vacation, and it is tough,” he said. “I give the guys a lot of credit for making that commitment and sacrifice.”
Yet, athletes say the sacrifice is worth it.
“We love each other, we’re a family,” said Scott Walter, a quarterback at Centreville. “We just stick together through all the hard times and the running, so we keep together and keep each other motivated.”