By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
Central High School's football team hit the ground running -- lots of running -- to mark the first day of fall football practice on Monday.
The Falcons, like many area programs, jumped right back into football mode with a two-a-day that included plenty of work.
Central junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman loved every minute of it.
"We're looking to get better as an offense, day-to-day," Bauserman said. "It's tiring, obviously -- two-a-days -- but it's time to get back into shape and start playing again."
Other area programs starting practice on Monday included Stonewall Jackson, Strasburg, Sherando and Skyline. Warren County opens practice next week, and private schools Massanutten Military Academy and Randolph-Macon Academy are still on summer break.
The Falcons have plenty of motivation to get back on the field after a strong season last year that included a Bull Run District championship and a trip to the Group A state playoffs. Thanks to a new Virginia High School League rule that allowed limited year-round practice for all sports, the Falcons did get to spend a bit more time fine-tuning for the coming season.
"We did a little bit of hitting down at Turner Ashby, we did some timing things, we did our seven-on-sevens," Central football coach Mike Yew said. "Going to Turner Ashby was really the only thing different we did from years past. We've always gone to team camp, we've always gone to a couple seven-on-sevens, organized and sanctioned like that.
"But the only thing we did really different this year was the three-day combine camp down at Turner Ashby. We had a chance to put on uppers, helmets and shoulder pads, and got after it a little bit, mixed it up with five other schools."
As a Group A school, Central can't fully take advantage of the relaxed rule regarding practice simply due to a lack of numbers. Yew said many of his players compete in multiple sports during the school year, making it tough to get much of the team together.
"The rules are in place, I think, for the much bigger schools," Yew said. "We adhere to them and do what we're supposed to do, but when you're a single A school and you're small like us, you're fighting for the same kids in the off-season. So we can't go out and solicit and continue to beat up these kids over and over and over. A lot of times your football, basketball, baseball kids are the same kids, five or six of them, core kids."
Strasburg coach Mark Roller has the same dilemma with a Group A program, although the open spring sessions did provide some positives for the Rams.
"We tried to do a little bit there in the spring," Roller said. "We really had a lot of our younger players, our JV kids, when we were doing things in the spring. I think that benefits us more, to have them there because now they can learn a little bit sooner what we're trying to do."
Strasburg also held a two-a-day practices on Monday, wrapping up the second session just before 9 p.m. on an unseasonably cool night. Standout running back Rakwon White, heading into his senior season, liked what he saw of this year's Rams.
"The intensity is pretty good, first day," White said. "Everybody is working hard, a lot of people stepping up in conditioning 10 times harder."
For Roller, the opening day of practice was largely a day of discovery and experimentation as his team gears up for full pads next week.
"I think we're just trying to figure out where to put people, making sure we get them in the right spots so they don't have to learn things twice," Roller said. "Fundamentals is always the key. We always work on those, and conditioning. That's probably the biggest thing."
In Woodstock, Bauserman and his Central teammates needed little urging to put in a hard day's work on the football field.
"Summer was fun, but summer's pretty much over for us," Bauserman said. "It's time to get back to work, and I like that."