HARKER HEIGHTS — Long gone are the days of Bear Bryant’s grueling Junction Boys practices.
Now, a staple of preseason high school football — two-a-days — are slowly being fazed out as well. Especially after the UIL enacted new policies this year restricting traditional two-a-day practices from the four-day acclimatization (sans pads) period of preseason practices.
“I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t sure about it when it first came out — I’m not sure anybody was — but now that I’ve done it for three days, I really have no problems with it,” said Harker Heights head football coach Mike Mullins.
In an effort to cut down on rapidly growing reports of dehydration and even death in recent years, especially in light on the rising temperatures Texas student-athletes are working outside in August, the UIL unveiled new practice policies aimed at creating safer practice conditions.
“It’s just an adjustment, people have to adjust, and the UIL’s intention is to protect kids, so we (as coaches) have to understand that and do the best we can with what the situation is,” said Belton head coach Rodney Southern said.
Among the new policies, teams cannot schedule more than one practice — of no more than 3 hours — on any single day during the four-day acclimatization period.
During those first four days of practice, if there is more than one practice session, the second must be relegated to a non-contact equipment — including helmets — walkthrough with no conditioning included.
Following the four-day acclimatization period, teams are permitted to hold two practices in a single day but they must be separated by a two-hour break period and there are never to be consecutive days in which two practices are held.
The UIL isn’t alone in its regulating two-a-days. The NFL completely eliminated any two-a-day practices when the league and the player’s union renegotiated the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
Three days into preseason practices, and with a full 24 hours remaining before pads go on, Mullins has already seen a benefit from the new policies.
Working at a faster pace per rep, the Knights are routinely working 27-30 plays in a 15 minute span, which also works in some game-like conditioning the Heights coaches are trying to instill in the players.
“It’s just so fast-paced and they’re moving, ... so they’re just switching in and out and they’re going. And after they go hard, someone else comes in,” Mullins said.
The same thing is going on in Temple, where Spradlin has his players working on efficiency.
“I’ve always been among the opinion, if I can’t get done in 2 hours and 15-20 minutes everything I need to get done, than I’m probably a bad organizer,” Spradlin said.
The Tigers run a morning practice from 6:45 a.m. until 9, with a long break before players return to lift weights and watch film in the afternoon.
Due to the new restrictions, Belton has been going with a longer-than-normal 2 1/2-hour practice in the morning and following that with an afternoon walkthrough. In prior years, Southern has preferred running 1 1/2-hour practices twice a day during preseason camp.
“To me, you’re fresher when you do two and you do them one in the morning and one in the afternoon,” Southern said. “That’s always been my philosophy, but it’s just that’s how I was raised in coaching. So that’s been a change for me.”
Southern has mixed things up some this week, going through the walkthrough in the morning along with lifting and indoor conditioning inside the Tigers’ new $5.6 million field house with the two-hour practice to follow in the afternoon.
Along with doing away with 1 1/2-hour practices twice-a-day, Belton has also made a change to its schedule, forgoing a Week O regular season opener in favor of one extra week of practice.
Instead of opening the season with a Week 0 game like the rest of the state, Southern will use that week to make sure every last one of his players is in game-shape and prepared for 10 straight weeks of games.
“To me (losing the open week before the start of district play) is a risk I’m willing to take because I think the benefits potentially can outweigh the fact of having an open date three games into the season,” Southern said.
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