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Bulloch County preps starting to suit up in full pads

    Thunderstorms brought football practices around the county to a halt Thursday afternoon, but no spirits were dampened as full-pad practices are officially getting underway.
    Although teams were allowed to begin formal practices on July 25, Wednesday marked the first day that teams were allowed to dress out in full football gear. Much like the National Football League teams that have been rolling into their respective training camps on different days, there is no exact method to the madness of when schools should really ramp up the intensity of practice.
    Some teams jumped right into the thick of things at the first possible moment, while others are still holding off. Whatever the line of thinking, there is no doubt that football season is here and that high schoolers throughout Bulloch County are excited to be strapping on the pads once again.
    One school that wasted no time in gearing up was Southeast Bulloch. On Wednesday afternoon, the busses hardly cleared out students from the first day of classes when the clicks and clacks of hard hits filled the air at the Yellow Jackets’ practice field. SEB has been mired in some lean years lately, but head coach Pat Collins – entering his third season at the helm – is pleased with the effort that his players have shown and is hoping that forward progress will continue from the weight room and the practice field into the win column this season.
    Still, the Jackets have an uphill battle. Reclassification has seen SEB move up to Class AAA. Some tough competition has been left behind in Class AA, but there is no shortage of talent in the Jackets’ new region rivals. In order to be prepared, SEB is getting in as much practice time as possible.
    “We worked hard all summer, but we were excited to take the next step and get onto the practice field,” Collins said. “We were just as excited to get into full pads. So long as the heat allows us, that’s how we’re going to stay throughout the week and moving forward.”
    Conversely, the Statesboro Blue Devils are easing their way into the practice schedule.
    The Devils reported for practice on July 25 and have held practices each weekday, but have yet to dress out in more than helmets and shoulder pads. Winners of back-to-back region titles, the Devils have found their comfort zone as it relates to preparing for the season and still haven’t set a firm date for their first day in full pads.
    “In reality, we’re eight days ahead of schedule,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “Since we were able to get on the field before August, we’ve been able to go through a lot more while we also get our players acclimated to the heat.”
    While some teams rush to get things running at full speed as soon as possible, Statesboro has a more calculated approach to its preparations.
    “This is a schedule and a system that has worked well for us the last couple of years,” Pennington said. “Without full pads, we can do more and grow more from a mental perspective. In the long run, we’re going to be going at it for three months in pads. An extra few days in pads probably won’t benefit us as much as it could potentially hurt us.”
    Statesboro is sticking to the same old plan, but Bulloch Academy has had its traditional preseason schedule thrown into turmoil.
    Gators coach Ronnie Hodges held a week-long camp at the beginning of August last season, putting his team through two-a-day practices in the South Georgia heat to prepare them for the grind of the coming season.
    But Bulloch Academy opened its doors for the 2012-13 school year Thursday, eliminating any possibility of keeping the same schedule this season.
    “It’s tough on us with school starting so early,” Hodges said. “Our kids need to get adjusted to classes, but at the same time we’re trying to get going on the football field.
    Still wanting to start with a full head of steam, Hodges has implemented a mini-camp slated to begin tonight. The Gators will dress out in full pads for the first time tonight, come back for two more practices Saturday, then host a rare Sunday evening practice before resuming a normal schedule beginning next week.
    “We still want to create that camp atmosphere,” Hodges said. “That is where our team bonds and comes together. We’ll still be intense at our other practices, but this is where we set the tone for the season.”
    There are plenty of ways to jump into the season, but only one way to move forward from here.
    All teams will have dressed out in full pads at least once by the end of next week and from there, it will be a daily grind as schools work to be prepared for opening night. Bulloch Academy starts its regular season August 30 at St. Andrew’s while Statesboro, SEB and Portal all start their regular seasons Aug. 31.
    Bulloch Academy will be the first local team to play a preseason scrimmage as they host Curtis Baptist, Windsor Academy and one more team yet to be named in a jamboree at Gator Alley August 10.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.