John Paul II Catholic School football team starts fast
It was just before 8 a.m. when the John Paul II football team broke from its team meeting Thursday and hit the practice field for the first time.
The thermometer read 81 degrees. And gathering steam.
“It’s been the hottest summer I can remember,” said coach Kevin Wald, a Walhalla native and Clemson graduate. “It’s not rare to see 100 degrees, but to see it this many days is kind of unusual. I’ve felt kind of run down myself this summer from being out in it so much.”
So began Football 2016 in the Lowcountry. Hydrate early, hydrate often.
Of course, football and summer swelter are a natural pairing every year, even in more northern climes. But with the thermometer reaching 100 degrees in Bluffton on Thursday and forecast to do so again Friday, the extreme nature has coaches and trainers perhaps just a little more wary.
“These first couple of days, (players) are really stressing their bodies,” said John Paul II trainer Kevin Thomas. “We’re just keeping an eye out.”
Said Hilton Head Prep coach Dave Adams: “Everybody has the freedom to get water if they need.”
Fall camp began Thursday for four SCISA schools, as Prep, Hilton Head Christian and Thomas Heyward hit their fields not long after JP2. Friday brings the start for public schools, with Bluffton getting a slight jump on the others by holding its Midnight Madness opener under the lights.
Rules limit practice to helmets and shorts the first two days, followed by two days in helmets and shoulder pads. Full pads won’t be seen until the middle of next week, just days before some teams conduct their first preseason scrimmages.
“Next week is going to be the problem,” said Beaufort coach Mark Clifford.
Though temperatures will have eased back to the mid-90s by then, forecasts call for increased humidity and a daily possibility of thunderstorms.
“We had to take the shoulder pads off (in some workouts) last year,” Clifford continued. “Hey, there’s all kinds of learning you can still do, even if you get down to just T-shirts and shorts. We can still get better.”
Heat-related complications certainly aren’t limited to football. Thursday and Friday also mark the opening workouts for other fall sports, including cross country and girls’ tennis. On the other side of the JP2 campus, runners could be seen getting in their 8 a.m. work as well.
Football, though, draws the most scrutiny. Every year brings a few headlines somewhere of players requiring treatment for heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
“The biggest thing with today’s kids, compared to years ago, is kids aren’t necessarily as acclimated to the heat coming in,” said Adams, back on the sideline after nine years away while serving as Bluffton’s AD. “Kids used to stay outside more, and it wasn’t as much of a shock to the system.”
Prevention really begins hours before practice, with players encouraged to drink plenty of water the night before workouts begin. Coaches also build frequent water breaks into their practice schedule. At JP2, those breaks come roughly every 15 minutes.
“I think if you keep them watered up good, they stay fresh and you get more out of them,” Wald said. “And the kids appreciate it, too.”
Coaches also have been trained to be on the lookout for players who can’t catch their breath or suddenly act dazed or confused. Trainers also roam the field looking for symptoms.
“That’s really one of the reasons why our profession is starting to grow,” Thomas said. “More high schools are starting to put us in their programs.”
At Beaufort, Clifford said, trainer Josh Ferguson is “one man I won’t argue with.”
“He tells us to take our helmets off, we take our helmets off,” Clifford said, launching into a story from the Eagles’ 2013 season that reached the state quarterfinals.
Hot conditions prompted Ferguson to order helmets off in the final practice for the season opener. Beaufort beat Wando the next evening. It happened again the next Thursday, and the Eagles won again.
“We kept winning, so we kept going without helmets (on Thursdays),” Clifford said with a laugh. “We went 5-0, then lost to Goose Creek. All right, back to helmets.”
Levity aside, coaches do have to strike a fine balance with the heat. After all, the season opener looms just three weeks away.
“When we get to August 19th,” Adams said, “it’s going to be hot and at that point you have to play in it full speed. This acclimatization period right now, it’s something you have to go through to make it safe for the game.”