As a safety precaution, the Georgia High School Association didn’t want teams to jump into preseason practices with all of the protective gear before getting acclimated to the heat and humidity, and the pace of being on the field.
Now, with practices without pads behind them, coaches are able to simulate game conditions and gauge the type of talent at their disposal.
“For us, this represents more real football,” Marietta coach Scott Burton said. “The stuff, like the 7-on-7s throughout the summer and the workouts that don’t involve pads, that just helped you prepare for the real thing.
“Kids can look athletic and look pretty when they’re not wearing the pads, but sometimes they don’t have quite the understanding of how to just line up and play. I think, sometimes, kids that didn’t quite shine as brightly before emerge when pads come on, and vice versa. Some kids look really good, and then the pads come on and they might not rise to the occasion like you’d hope they would.”
Marietta wide receiver Jordan Mathis is one of those players expected to rise to the occasion. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior didn’t have a problem getting out of the shells and into pads with live hitting.
“I was really excited to put the pads on,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be back and it makes you ready for football season.
“There was a lot of hitting going on and the competitions were exciting. Hearing the pads knocking against each other was nice. It’s great to be back out here.”
Burton was pleased to see Mathis’ excitement shared throughout the team’s practice Thursday. With the Blue Devils’ first game in three weeks at Newnan, the effort the players showed was exactly what Burton wanted to see.
“I’ve been really happy with the energy and the leadership,” Burton said. “I think our attitude has been great. The balance in our step has been really good. We’ve been getting a lot done and installed offensively and defensively. So far, through six days of practice, the kids have done a superb job of controlling their effort and their attitude.”
Coaches look for different things during the first full-padded practice, and practices can either be hard and tough, or they can be a little easier with the focus on improving technique and footwork. That’s the tact first-year Harrison coach Matt Dickmann took with the Hoyas.
“We did most of our pad work using individual drills,” Dickmann said. “We’re still installing plays, so there was a lot of 1-on-1 with the players and no team work. There wasn’t a lot of hitting. We’ll get into that next week. It was just easier for us to do it this way. And from talking with the coaches, things went well (Thursday). We could still feel the energy from the kids, even though there wasn’t a lot of hitting, and we got a better look at evaluating kids with their pads on.”
Sprayberry coach Billy Shackelford liked what he saw from his team.
“I thought it went well,” he said. “It was nice to see them out there hitting. We’re weren’t as physical on the first day, but that will come with time. The kids were flying around having fun. It’s an exciting time. Everybody’s healthy and the anticipation for the season is definitely there.
“As a coach, you spent the offseason getting the guys bigger, stronger, faster. It’s nice to see the fruits of that labor when they get the pads on.”
The first day of pads differed for each coach, but it’s always about safety in the long run.
“I think (the coaching style) varies by program,” Burton said. “Some guys, I know, like to get after it right away and spend the majority of practice in contact-related drills and get a diagnostic tool on what you have. Other guys just treat it more like a regular practice and don’t deviate too much and don’t place too much emphasis into it.
“What you don’t want are your kids forgetting about technique and assignments, and they forget about safety because they get too amped up. So, as coaches, I think we have to be walking the line a little bit between wanting to encourage aggressiveness and wanting to encourage playing the game the right way, which is hard and fast, and always tempering that with what’s right for the kids in terms of safety and those things.”