With football season charging into stadiums in a matter of weeks, Texas high school teams are already training on the field despite the summer heat and consecutive days of 100-plus temperatures.
Football camps continue for the majority of programs, mainly in the evenings or early mornings. However, the hot temperatures have caused some teams to alter their workout routines and practice schedules.
Waking up early to condition and weight train to beat the heat has been the schedule for players who wish to remain on the varsity and junior varsity squads. The abnormally hot weather is proving both a strengthening and eliminating factor for the Sachse High School Mustangs. The heat has sifted athletes who no longer wish to compete.
“If it was easy, everyone would be doing it,” said Jaron Counts, a senior defensive tackle. “It’s not easy, and everybody is not doing it.” He shared that in the end, “You don’t have a choice. It’s either deal with it or quit the team.”
Working out with teammates builds team morale, though. Counts said, “It’s the fact you get to work out with your friends, your brothers. It just makes the whole experience better.” The 6-foot, 264-pound senior explained that his team begins its camp early, before 8 a.m., to avoid the heat of the day.
The heat has also allowed room for emerging leaders on their team, as the athletes encourage each other to work harder. Meanwhile, coaches and athletic trainers ensure no players suffer from heat exhaustion.
Coach A. J. Roland encourages his players to stay hydrated when they’re not at practice. He tells athletes to avoid unhealthy food and to drink lots of water and electrolytes. At this point in the Mustangs’ pre-season, there have not been any heat-related injuries.
“My responsibility, number one, is to keep these kids safe and do no harm,” explained Coach Roland. “I have to know how they’re acting normally, and if they’re not right that day, I have to make sure I address it. They have to be able to trust me, saying, ‘Coach, I’m not feeling right today.”
At Ennis High School, the Lions finished their first practice for fall camp on Monday afternoon.
A single tree provides shade on the field. Chase Willingham, coach of the Ennis football team, shared a memorable story about this tree with his freshman players.
“An older coach named Wayne Walker who used to coach here planted that tree so the people who came to watch us practice would have some shade and somewhere cool to watch us,” Willingham said. “He planted a shade tree that we get to enjoy. There’s a lesson in that.”
Coach continued, saying, “Coach Walker isn’t here anymore to see us enjoy it but sometimes, when we serve others, we don’t always see the results. It doesn’t mean we stop doing the right thing.” On sweltering summer days, the tree and the message are legacies particularly appreciated by hot, tired athletes.
Football practice could begin statewide for all ninth graders at UIL schools on Monday. Schools that classify as 1A through 4A could also start their programs at both the JV and varsity levels. Schools 5A and 6A are not beginning their programs unless JV and varsity teams did not partake in spring ball.
This week, it is just ninth graders at Ennis High School, but all players spent only 20 minutes running drills at their first practice. Coach Willingham said there is a strategy in place.
“We don’t want to treat this like the military,” Willingham said. “That’s an old-school way of thinking. We want to get these kids here and take care of them so they can play hard come game time.”
For most of the afternoon, the freshman team practiced in the air conditioning inside Ennis’ indoor facility, with just shorts and a helmet. “In there, they get to learn, and then when we get out here, they can put it to use,” Willingham said. “We want them to execute outside.”
The CDC said August is a top month for heat-related emergencies among high school athletes. It advises programs to schedule workouts and practice for when the temperature is cooler, such as earlier or later in the day. They also note that heat-related injuries happen more frequently during practices than during games.
Ennis Athletic Director Don Drake is aware of these dangers. “We can take these guys in here and get some good work in without worrying about the temperature outside,” Drake said. “We want to get them to where they need to be before the season starts, but we don’t have to do it all at once.”
Many North Texas teams are planning their practice schedules for early mornings this week. Especially when indoor practice is not an option, this is a solid approach to protecting players from heat exhaustion.