B.J. Payne never feared blistering temperatures. The former University of Mount Union (Ohio) defensive tackle welcomed them.
"When I played, I enjoyed being in the heat," said Payne, now the coach at Hilton Head Island High School. "It wasn't for any reason than I knew my body was always going to be warm."
Payne knows others don't quite share the same sentiment, especially in the sweltering heat of South Carolina. That's why the S.C. High School League is taking preventative measures to reduce heat-related injuries this season by eliminating the allotted 29 preseason practices in favor of an hourly format, according to officials commissioner Bruce Hulion.
Teams are now only allowed three hours per practice and no more than five hours total on a given day, the commissioner said. Those two-a-days, meanwhile, must include a two-hour break between practices.
"What you have to do is protect the athletes -- and the coaches, too, because they're out there, too," Hulion said. " ... Any time you can reduce the chances of these athletes having heat-related illness, heat strokes and those type of things, anything that can be done ought to be done."
But not everyone is as on board with the plan as those in the SCHSL. Some -- like Bluffton coach Ken Cribb -- think the shortened preseason will lead to more injuries and heat-related issues come game time. Cribb's preseason will be cut by about 10 practices before Bluffton takes the field Aug. 17 against Whale Branch, he said.
"I'm worried about it, to be honest," said Cribb, whose Bobcats begin fall drills this morning. "I know colleges have been doing it for a long time and they think this is the new wave, the new way to do it.
"But I'm worried about kids getting in trouble Game 1, early in the season. Their bodies haven't been acclimated to the heat."
Hulion disputed that notion, however.
"I don't think that's an issue at all," he said. "Everybody's doing the same thing."
Plans to cut back on heat-related problems have never been more necessary, as at least 20 high school football players have died from heat strokes since 2006, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Research at the University of North Carolina.
The Center for Disease Control, meanwhile, discovered that heat illness is the leading cause of both death and disability among high school athletes in the United States, affecting more than 9,000 students annually. The center added that football players are at the highest risk.
Count Beaufort High head athletic trainer Josh Ferguson among those who support the SCHSL's latest rule. The Carolina Sportscare employee has seen firsthand what heat can do to a player, as Eagles coach Mark Clifford recalled having to ice down a player during a practice in 2007.
"I think this is a great rule," Ferguson said. "I wish it had been done a lot sooner, to be honest. It's been needed for quite a long time."
How coaches combat heat exhaustion is one of the biggest differences in player safety, Payne said.
"I always use the term 'practice smart,' " said Payne, whose Seahawks also start practicing today. "I think that entails a lot of different things. ... We make sure that every position group has water bottles with them and on top of that we take water breaks every 20 minutes to ensure the kids have enough fluids as well."
Further steps include monitoring the heat index and adjusting accordingly. Ferguson said all teams must take pads off once the heat index reaches 95 degrees, while all outdoor activity must stop at 105 degrees or higher. The first day in pads for all public schools is Monday while full gear begins on Wednesday.
Ferguson and the Eagles take measures one step further by weighing players before and after practice in order to monitor water weight. If an athlete loses 2 percent of their body weight following a practice, they must gain it back by the next day or forfeit being able to work out with the team.
"We have probably one of the best sports medicine staffs in the state, I believe, with Josh Ferguson and Carolina Sportscare," Clifford said. "I know not every high school has that. ... Everybody in the state is not fortunate enough to have the situation we have."
Underlying physical problems are what worry Cribb. Issues like the one in Darlington last year, where Lamar High freshman Tyquan Brantley died hours after collapsing after a Saturday practice. The 14-year-old's death was later found to be a result of a sickle-cell crisis, Darlington coroner Todd Hardee said at the time.
"Having a nephew that had a heart transplant right before he turned 6 years old, he didn't have health problems," Cribb recalled. "He caught a virus that attacked his heart and they didn't know he had any health condition. It was not detected and it destroyed his heart.
"Those kind of things have my attention more than anything because it hits so close to me."
Players have to speak up when they feel exhausted, Payne added. His Seahawks -- like Cribb's team -- take frequent water breaks, but must alert a coach if the down time isn't enough.
"If your players aren't smart and make you aware of it, a lot of times it goes unnoticed," he said. "The players have to be smart as well and say, 'Hey coach, I'm not feeling well, I need some water.' "
Cribb "knocks on wood" when talking about his history with heat-related issues, as neither he nor Payne have experienced problems from players on the field before.
They're hoping that continues this season with the precautions both schools take alongside the regulations outlined by the state's high school league.
"You just have to be aware of it and make sure your players are aware of it," Payne said.
Today's high school football practice schedule:
Battery Creek High School -- 6-9 p.m.
Beaufort High School -- 8 a.m.
Bluffton High School -- 7-10 a.m.
Hilton Head Island High School -- 7-8:30 a.m.; 10:30 a.m.-noon.
Hardeeville-Ridgeland High School -- 12:01 a.m.; 8:15-8:45 a.m.
Whale Branch Early College High School -- 9 a.m.
WHAT TO WATCH
Story lines for the Beaufort and Jasper County public high schools, which begin preseason football practices today:
Battery Creek -- The Dolphins are hoping to bounce back from a one-win season in Class 3-A, as the program has dropped down a level in classification.
Beaufort High -- The Eagles lost several key pieces from last year's team but are looking to be competitive in a new region, which includes upstart Bluffton High.
Bluffton -- The Bobcats are preparing for their first season in Class 4-A. Bluffton ravaged its 3-A schedule last season en route to a 14-1 overall record and a state runner-up finish.
Hilton Head Island High -- The Seahawks are embarking on their maiden trip under first-year coach B.J. Payne. Payne was hired in January after six seasons at Lexington (Ohio) High, where he led the Minutemen to a 36-24 record.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville -- The now-defunct Hardeeville and Ridgeland high schools are joining up this year as a newly formed school. The bigger football roster means a bigger classification, too, as the team is moving up a level to Class 2-A.
Whale Branch -- The Warriors hope to make the playoffs for a third consecutive season, this year under the direction of new coach and former Beaufort High defensive coordinator Jerry Hatcher.
-- Compiled by Chris Cox