The Valdosta Daily Times
The Lowndes football team officially opened fall practice on Wednesday. Wearing helmets and shorts, the Vikings practiced for two hours under the morning sun. Over 110 varsity players participated in the workout.
The workout was something the Vikings were used to; they’ve worked out in helmets all summer long.
“It is going well,” said Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson. “It really isn’t any different from what we’ve been doing all summer. It’s the same thing.”
The Vikings will really get things rolling next Wednesday, the first day teams are eligible for full-contact drills.
For the five days that lead up to the team’s first practice in full pads, McPherson said the Vikings are just building on what they’ve done all summer.
“We are just going the way we’ve been going all summer,” McPherson said. “There really is nothing different. Everybody is talking about the five days, but most teams started in June, with their helmets on.”
The five-day acclimation period mandated by the Georgia High School Association comes after a three-year study commissioned by the GHSA and completed by the University of Georgia. It found that heat-related deaths among football players tripled nationwide between 1994 and 2009, and that Georgia suffered more deaths at all levels of the sport (not just high school) than any other state.
Last year, Georgia high school football players died because of heat-related illness, including one that attended Fitzgerald High School.
The five-day period is meant to allow players a period of time to get acclimated to wearing helmets before going in full gear.
Teams are also required to monitor the wet bulb, a reading that measures the heat and humidity. Teams will not be monitoring the heat index, because that does not take into account humidity.
Once teams are in pads, if the wet bulb reaches a certain level deemed too dangerous, teams will have to remove pads or delay practice until the wet bulb returns to a less-dangerous level.
At Lowndes, 17-year veteran head athletic trainer Phillip Pieplow is responsible for monitoring the wet bulb and relaying that information to McPherson and the coaching staff.
Along with wet bulb monitoring, the GHSA passed new practice guidelines restricting the amount of time student-athletes may spend on the practice field.
Once teams begin full-contact drills on Aug. 1, teams may not conduct two-a-day practices on back-to-back days, and all two-a-day practices may not exceed five hours in combined length. Three-a-day practices have been banned, and the five practices leading up to full contact drills may not exceed two hours in length.
The reduction in practice time will affect how teams prepare, largely on special teams. In the past, when teams conducted three-a-day practices, the mid-afternoon practice was focused on special teams.
Now many teams, like Lowndes, have started to work on special teams throughout the summer, in order to ensure that part of the game does not decline.
“I think the good programs, especially in this region, are going to find ways to get it done within the rules,” McPherson said. “What we did, we just started working on everything in June. We’ve been working on special teams all summer.”
Schools found violating the new heat safety rules and practice guidelines will be fined as much as $1,000 per offense.
Throughout preseason camp, all eyes will be on the Vikings’ quarterback battle between senior Alex Stephenson and junior Seth Carlo. Despite being hampered by a hand injury, Carlo is battling for the starting job with Stephenson, a transfer from Valdosta High. On Wednesday, McPherson said the quarterbacks are even, and no one has an advantage.
“We have two of them now, and both of them are taking equal reps,” said McPherson of his quarterback situation. “Both of them are doing a good job and working hard.”
McPherson would not indicate when he will name a starter for the position, saying he has never really put a time table on things.
“I never have had a time table for naming people,” McPherson said. “The quarterback, in my opinion, is no different than the offensive guard or the nose guard. When one of them separates, that will be that.”
Regardless of who the quarterback is this season for the Vikings, they will surely be seeing more of McPherson. The 11th-year head coach said he has turned most of the defensive reigns over to new defensive coordinator Taz Dixon, who was on the Valdosta coaching staff last season, and that he has turned his focus back on the offense.
“I’m focusing more on offense this year,” McPherson said. “There has only been a couple times that I haven’t called the plays, and it really felt strange. I just feel like it is me.”
McPherson and quarterbacks coach William Davis will share the offensive play calling duties. Last season, McPherson assisted Davis with the play calling, but the majority of the responsibility was with Davis.
Lowndes opens its season Aug. 31 against Luella at Martin Stadium. The Vikings host Thomasville Aug. 17 in a preseason scrimmage. The Vikings begin region play Sept. 28 at Colquitt County.