That all changed Friday, the first date schools were allowed to hold padded football practices, based on the Georgia High School Association rule book.
Athletes must have had five days of conditioning before they could have suited up Friday.
The change to padded practices was a welcome addition at Sprayberry, which held its first practice just after midnight.
“It was exciting,” said senior offensive lineman Bailey Sharp, an Auburn commitment. “The rules say you could hold your first practice as early as 12:01 in the morning, and that’s what we did. We had midnight madness.
“The entire team was out there in full pads. We had so much fun. The lights were on, and we ran out of the tunnel like it was a real game, it felt awesome. It had a Friday night football feel. There was a nice drizzle during practice, too, so it was cool.”
After an hour-and-a-half of practice, the fun didn’t end at Sprayberry. Some players spent the night in the fieldhouse, while others who had rides went home to sleep in their own beds.
“We had practice again at 8 (in the) morning,” Sharp said. “Guys were sore, but we were glad to get it out of the way. The guys coming out of the fieldhouse looked like zombies. It was really funny.”
First-year Walton coach Mo Dixon liked what he saw from his players on their first day in pads. He got them out on the field early, with an 8 a.m. start, and practice lasted two hours.
“We wanted to get them acclimated and to get them going,” Dixon said. “It’s Friday. Get them up and get them out of here. They’ll have to be here for school at that time anyway.”
One of the biggest benefits of padded practices is to see how the skill players — like quarterbacks and defensive backs — react to the ball. Players have a better range of motion without the pads, so they’ll have to make adjustments when they wear them.
“It was a good practice,” Dixon said. “They were excited to have the pads on. It’s an adjustment time for the quarterbacks and receivers and everybody else because of the shoulder pads and knee and thigh pads. There’s a little bit of extra weight and limited mobility, and they all have to adjust to that.
“The guys were flying around. There were a couple of nicks and bruises, and it’s all a learning experience. But I was pleased.”
Allatoona’s Gary Varner also got an early 7 a.m. start with his players. He spoke to the team about certain expectations, but he didn’t try to drive home a theme for the year.
“When I spoke to the team, it was mainly about what I expect from them this season,” he said. “I didn’t make a huge thing about it, so it wasn’t a big deal. We just want the kids in the right spots and getting after it.
“Our kids were fired up to get out there. It was a high-energy practice that got the guys used to wearing the pads, so that they’re ready for Monday. We got a lot of kids involved and used it as an opportunity to see how the summer workouts paid off.”