The wait is over. Wednesday morning, under sunny skies, the fall high school sports season officially kicked off for Howard County’s 12 public schools.
The schedule, length and intensity of practices differed for the various sports and schools, but the general feeling of anticipation and excitement was consistent.
“It’s exciting to be able to get out and get us going in the right direction and start developing an overall program vision,” said Justin Carey, who’s in his first-year as head varsity football coach at Hammond High School. “You always look forward to that first full day, but it’s even a little more special for me since I’m getting the opportunity to tie into a new team.”
The truth is, while Aug. 14 is the first day coaches are allowed to begin working with their teams, the preparation for the upcoming season has been underway for quite some time.
Athletes are responsible for completing their physicals and baseline concussion testing, along with turning in all necessary paperwork, prior to ever stepping on the practice field. And for most coaches, including Carey, the behind the scenes work is an ongoing thing.
“My season doesn’t really start Aug. 14, I’m a year round kind of guy,” Carey said. “As soon as I got the job, around New Years, I got everything rolling right then and there with academics in the building and our offseason weight program.”
Traditionally, one of the wild cards associated with the first day of practice is the new faces — freshmen, transfers or improved players — that arrive to try out for the team alongside the returning varsity and junior varsity players. Although these days, with club ball and the way word travels, there are fewer and fewer surprises.
“You hear through contacts, knowing coaches, 7v7 … you get a pretty good idea of what kind of talent is coming in,” said Centennial varsity girls soccer coach Steve Baxter. “You never know about everyone, you always hope to get an extra surprise or two, but for the most part it’s pretty hard for players to slip under the radar.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that Baxter isn’t always excited to see how his new crop of players is able to blend in.
“That’s the great thing about high school, you have a new group every year … every team has their own different identity,” said Baxter, whose Eagles’ team went 6-4-1 in county play in 2012. “With club soccer, I kind of have my team of girls that’s stayed steady. In high school it’s new talent each fall.
“This year, for example, we have a great freshmen class and that’s really exciting.”
The first day of practice usually involves fitness assessments, initial team meetings and drills. The general idea is to get the introductory stuff out of the way and dive in as quickly as possible.
Even football, which isn’t allowed to practice in full pads until the sixth day of practice in accordance with the heat acclimatization guidelines introduced in 2012, tries to maintain a somewhat normal regimen.
“You try to maximize the time you have in accordance with the rules,” Carey said. “There’s still plenty of drills that can be done.”
With just over three weeks until the first official play date of Sept. 6., there’s certainly not any time to waste.
“These three weeks will go fast, trust me,” said Marriotts Ridge boys soccer coach Kevin Flynn, whose squad will be trying this fall to set a new state record by winning its fifth straight state title. “We’ve got a lot of new pieces that we are trying to fit together so we’re going to need every practice and every scrimmage we can get.
“Today was a good start, now we’ve got to keep building from here.”