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Football practice mandatory before pads go on

COVINGTON -- In order to help combat the problem facing many high school football players during these dog days of summer, the Georgia High School Association is allowing schools to begin officially practice a week ahead of the Aug. 1 date set for pads.

"(Today) we'll go out in helmets. We'll do three days this week then we'll do Monday and Tuesday on next week then go full pads after that," Newton head football coach Cortez Allen said. "I think the five days is good because you're still allowed competitions throughout the summer to wear helmets. We've had some 7-on-7 competition tournaments where we're able to wear helmets. So the kids are acclimated to those things."

The other rules implemented by the state to help players deal with the heat before putting pads into the mix is to limit practices to two hours.

Even though the GHSA avoided saying it is a mandatory practice, it did set a mandate making its intentions known. According to the regulations adopted by the State Executive Committee in its meeting on March 19, "A student must have participated in five conditioning practices wearing shorts and helmets before being allowed to practice in full pads."

Allen agrees that it is a good plan by the state in order to help players deal with the heat once pads are included to the practice uniform. But as long as players have been working out and doing what they should, this is just added protection and not an end-all to the problem of heat-related injuries.

"I think it's great to start to get those kids acclimated, because the helmet being enclosed is a big ordeal. Once you add the pads, it adds a different element. As long as they're in some shape and they've been working out, like most of our kids do in the summer, they should be fine," he said. "It just gives another line of caution to the kids that haven't gotten out there to do what they need to do throughout the summer."

Other changes for practices set by the GHSA is that three-a-day practices are no longer allowed. If a team wants to hold two-a-day practices they have to make sure that no single session lasts more than three hours and that the total time is less than five hours with a minimum of a three-hour rest period in between.

The other rule set is that it is no longer permitted to have consecutive two-a-day practices. Coaches must either give the players a day off the field between two-a-days or they can have a single session which, again, cannot be longer than three hours.

Even though there have not any publicized heat-related instances, Allen feels that's because players have been practicing during the day since the coaches have not had to report to school yet. While the problem may become more severe once teachers report back to school, Allen does not feel that it will.

"There has been a major push to hydrate more," he said. "Once we get back to school you don't know if the kids are getting enough during the day. One thing we do is have water stations throughout the field, throughout the day to drink water anytime to make sure they stay hydrated."