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Big week for football teams

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

For the first time in nearly nine months, the sound of pads colliding could be heard on practice fields across the county.

Usually by this time of the year, players would have had plenty of time with the pads on, from spring practice to 11-on-11 padded camps during the summer.

This is obviously not just any year, though.

Spring practice was canceled because of the coronavirus shutdown, and while teams were permitted to work out during the summer, what they could do was severely limited.

Starting on Aug. 1, though, teams were permitted to pull the pads out of storage and begin holding full-contact practices, and that’s a big step as they prepare for a season that is scheduled to begin on Sept. 4.

“The game of football is played with physicality, and we’re finally getting an opportunity to see them

(in pads),” LaGrange head coach Matt Napier said on Wednesday as his players prepared for the week’s third practice. “The last two days, you found out who the guys are that are going to be physical. At the end of the day, those guys are going to be the guys you count on to play.”

So far, Napier is pleased with what he’s seen.

“We’ve had two really good days,” Napier said. “Obviously it’s tough on the kids when you put the equipment on for the first time. No matter how great of shape you’re in or how much acclimation, you get that helmet and shoulder pads on and it’s more difficult, but the guys worked hard. I’m pleased with our effort. They competed, and that’s all you can ask for.”

At Callaway, the players put the pads on for the first time since a state semifinal game against Brooks County on Dec. 6.

“As far as the energy goes, our players are working hard,” Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins said following the second practice of the week. “There are a lot of things that we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to practice faster, we’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to be better at fundamentals. But for the second day of pads, we’ve seen a lot of good things on the field.”

Wiggins has developed an offseason program that has helped Callaway’s program achieve tremendous success over the years, but the routine has been severely altered because of the coronavirus.

“I think the biggest difference right now is, at this point (in past years), there’s been so many reps that you have a lot better idea about every position,” Wiggins said. “So, we’ve missed reps from spring ball, from camps, seven-on-sevens, that really separate individuals. So, at this point, we’re in our second day of pads since we played Brooks County. Until you put on pads, you really don’t know. We have time to find out who those 11 are, and who those 11 are on defense, and the guys that are subbing for each of those starting positions.”

At Troup, head coach Tanner Glisson said following the first full-contact practice that it felt like “a first day.”

“You could tell that we hadn’t had the pads on since November. It’s been a long time,” Glisson said. “You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable, so we’re trying to push them through that, and they’ll get a little more of that today and we’ll see if we can make consistent improvement.”

Glisson is grateful to have an indoor practice facility which allows the team to practice, no matter what’s going on outside.

“We haven’t missed any days because of the facility,” Glisson said. “(Monday) it stormed, and it was nice to come in here. You can’t afford to miss time right now. So we feel pretty good about what we’ve done so far.”

Callaway, LaGrange and Troup each have preseason games on Aug. 21 and Aug. 28 before the regular season gets underway on Sept. 4. The regular season was originally going to start on Aug. 21, but the Georgia High School Association decided to push everything back two weeks.

Callaway is coming off another sensational season under Wiggins, who is in his 16th season as Callaway’s head coach.

Callaway went 12-2 and reached the state semifinals for the fourth time since 2013 before losing to Brooks County 39-35.

Expectations are high once again for the Cavaliers, who will be one of the favorites to win the state title in Class AA.

“Right now, we’re a lot different than we were last year, but each year it changes,” Wiggins said. “We have to find what’s our forte, what do we hang our hat on, and that’ll take time. It’ll take time to get players in the right position, and find the right fit for each of our guys, and let guys work to win a spot, and as practices go by and as we play games, we’ll find that. We’ll find different leadership. That’ll take time, and I’m looking forward to that process.”

At Troup, Glisson is embarking on his sixth season as head coach, and the program has thrived under his leadership.

The Tigers have won 35 games over the past four seasons, and they’ve reached the playoffs for four straight years.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but I like the makeup of this team,” Glisson said. “It has potential to be a really good team. We’ll see if we can progress every day, and see if we can stay away from the injury bug.”

At LaGrange, Napier takes over a program that has struggled in recent years.

The Grangers have won six games over the past four seasons, and they went 2-8 last year.

Napier, who was Callaway’s offensive coordinator for the past 15 years, knows there are no short cuts to success.

“That’s the great thing about this game. There’s no cheating the grind,” Napier said. “There’s no hiding from the work that needs to be done. Everybody’s working around the state of Georgia, every opponent we play is working. It’s what are you coming out here and doing every day to make us be at the level we want to be at.”