The first two weeks of high school football practice are notoriously grueling. Morning and afternoon workouts in blistering summer heat leave players sore, dehydrated and craving rest.

But at least most players aren't taking time off from their jobs for two-a-days. Worse, most aren't heading out to work when the day's practices end.

For many coaches, particularly those who do not work in the Prince George's County school system, two-a-days represent the most difficult time of the season. Those who have other jobs must find a way to balance their work with a football schedule that often begins before 8 a.m. and ends near sundown. And when you add wives and families into the mix, the two-week stretch of the preseason might be one of the most stressful times of the year for a coach.

Of the county's 20 public football coaches, four are not school system employees. Many assistants also are not school system employees. Some are students. Some are retired. Most have jobs. And if they want to be an integral part of the season from start to finish, that means taking precious vacation time from their jobs in order to coach football, which pays little--if anything--to most coaches.

"Luckily, I've been with my company for 15 years so I get five weeks of vacation," said Largo's Eric Wade, a fraud investigator for Allstate Insurance who is entering his first season as a head coach after 13 as an assistant. ". . . My wife has a week every year that is hers. Everything else is devoted to either basketball or football."

For Wade, who also is an assistant for Largo's boys basketball team, the root of his devotion is a combination of winning and getting his players into college.

"My thing is people helped me get where I am when I was growing up," he said. "Our principal would be happy if we went to the playoffs every year, but the bottom line is we get seniors in colleges on free rides. He judges me harder on that scale than wins and losses. For me, that is what it is all about: making sure kids understand life and get on to bigger and better things."

Friendly's George Earley, Northwestern's Ed Shields and Douglass's Bill Johnson also do not work in the school system. Earley is a station manager for Metro, Shields is a information systems auditor for the Environmental Protection Agency, and Johnson teaches at St. Columba School in Oxon Hill.

While school system employees returned to work yesterday--ending two-a-day practices--Shields, Earley and Wade have had to alter their schedules around football practice. Johnson, who went back to work Monday, ended two-a-days Saturday.

"It is tough to have obligations at two schools," Johnson said. "Teaching always comes first, though. That is the first obligation, then football. You've got ot make them fit. The area that suffers the most is your family."

DuVal defensive backs and running backs coach Mike McCullough isn't so lucky to be able to take off work. A newspaper distributor, he works from midnight to 7 a.m., then showers and goes to football practice.

"It is killing me," McCullough said. "The heat just drains you. It is like burning the candle at both ends. You can't work at night and work during the day and get adequate sleep. . . . It just tears your body."

McCullough said he was sleeping from when he got home after practice, around 8 p.m., until leaving just before midnight. He said he caught a break when Coach Joe Lewis allowed him to skip the morning practice twice last week to catch up on sleep.

Lewis, who is the only teacher on his staff, said he did not mind giving McCullough the chance to rest.

"He is a phenomenal coach," Lewis said. "You don't find too many coaches with the knowledge and desire to coach both sides of the ball like he does. He breathes and sleeps football."

Other teams also make concessions for assistant coaches. Eleanor Roosevelt practices offense in the morning and defense in the afternoon to accommodate the schedules of wide receivers coach Mancel Johnson (who is taking classes at the University of Maryland) and defensive coordinator Malcomb Walker (who works for a bakery).

"We're juggling guys," Roosevelt Coach Rick Houchens said.

On a slightly different note, Bladensburg offensive line coach William Lord does not attend practice Tuesday or Thursday because he is the school's band instructor.

At High Point, one of the first questions Coach Dale Castro asks potential assistants is whether they will be able to make the first two weeks of practice.

"That is one of the biggest things," Castro said.

So High Point's coaching staff, which includes four teachers, also includes defensive coordinator Pete Lamp, a former teammate of Castro at Maryland who works as a class ring salesman. Another assistant, Pat Burns, has a flexible schedule working at NASA.

"It is admirable that employers work with them," said Owen Johnson, the county's supervisor of athletics. "Obviously they have it worked out so they can do it. And it is appreciated. No doubt about it, it is an inconvenience."

Some coaches avoid the hassle of juggling work and coaching by simply taking vacation.

"My family thinks I should take vacation for them and not football," said Gwynn Park quarterbacks and running backs coach Guy Queen, an electronic engineer. "But to be honest, it wasn't really that hard a decision. Coach [Danny] Hayes asked me to come aboard, and I had planned on this as soon as I accepted the job."

Asked where his wife and two children would have liked to go on vacation, Queen said, "Anywhere but the football field."

For some, though, two-a-days provide an opportunity to see a spouse more often. Northwestern Coach Ed Shields's wife, Eleanor, is the cheerleading coach at the Hyattsville school.

"You know that you have to be there for Aug. 15 when it starts, and you have to be there during two-a-days," said Ed Shields, who took vacation days to be able to coach without missing work. "You have to plan ahead of time. Some guys let their bosses know as early as December. It is no different than a group of people going to Jamaica or the Bahamas. We just spend our vacation time on the football field. It's not that much different."

CAPTION: Crossland High head football coach Alan Arrington gives a little direction to player DeVon Goldring during afternoon practice at Temple Hills school.

CAPTION: Northwestern offensive line coach Jimmy Tench, left, starts unpacking new blocking equipment.