Wrestling and country conditioning could not prepare the senior for two-a-days — five hours of practice split in half and designed to shape young bodies for 10 to 15 weeks of football. Football practices opened across the area in the last two weeks and breathless athletes at other schools endured similar scenes.
The NCAA has strict regulations for multiple on-field practice sessions on consecutive days, they were all but eliminated in Maryland high schools and the NFL has banned them altogether. Still some leagues persist.
Before school starts, coaches test players’ tolerance for discomfort to answer two primary questions:
Who do we have? Who will we be?
Establishing a standard
On Monday, Aug. 5, the first day of football practices in Loudoun County, Woodgrove’s defenders created a drumroll with their feet.
“Down!” Coach Mike Skinner directed. The defenders kissed the turf with a thud and rose for more up-downs. “Down!” Thud. Grunt. “Down!” Thud. Grunt. “Again!”
In his second year at Woodgrove, Skinner has banked the trust he earned from his first season. The Wolverines went 7-4 in 2012, winning more games than the fourth-year school compiled in its first two seasons.
Skinner admittedly started soft last year. He held players’ hands and walked them through his schemes. The team bought in, so the 55-year-old head coach could afford to be less forgiving.
On Day 1, he prescribed up-downs for less-than-optimal efforts.
On the second day of two-a-days, Skinner kicked off the evening session with levity.
“Who wants to punt?” asked the coach.
Sophomore guard Hunter Smith, the largest player on the team at 6 feet 6 and just under 310 pounds, volunteered, then shanked a tumbling, end-over-end punt 15 yards to the left sideline. He received a round of applause and laughter.
Skinner sent out the real punt team, which revealed one of the team’s top concerns. Senior running back Josh Sweet, the undisputed alpha male at Woodgrove, is the starting punter.
The 212-pound runner carried the ball at least 32 times in five games last season, and Skinner likes him more as a linebacker than a tailback. Sweet rushed for 1,727 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
Woodgrove’s coaching staff does not want to overtax its workhorse and said he will be restricted to 20 carries per game unless the team needs him in the fourth quarter.
It will, but he is not concerned.
“I’m 17 years old,” Sweet said. “I’ve got plenty of life in me.”
Increased depth at running back will help ease the burden on Sweet, but a better fix would be under center.