When the lights go on high above Dominion's football field tonight it will mark the beginning of what will be, in essence, the first 96-hour practice in Titans history.
Welcome to a brand new season.
Tomorrow marks the first official day that high school football teams in Virginia can begin practice. So Dominion Coach Mike Dougherty has scheduled his players to report to the school at 10 tonight. At exactly 12:01 a.m., the Titans will hit the practice field for an emotional, if not physically demanding, start to their second season.
Basketball, it seems, no longer has a monopoly on Midnight Madness.
"It's not quite the same because since we're outside and it'll be midnight, we can't be too loud," Dougherty said. "Plus, we're starting again at 5 a.m. But the kids are head-over-heels for the idea. They know they're going to work hard, but they're still excited."
After the short midnight practice, the team will head inside to settle into their temporary home. Players and coaches will live at the school building until the end of practice Thursday.
"It's just like 'Remember the Titans,' only we'll be at our own school," said senior co-captain Tony Holdaway. "I absolutely love it. I think it's the coolest thing ever. This is how you unite a team. This is how you build friendships. And leaders will emerge from the big group."
Much like in the famed movie, Dougherty's original plan was to take the team away for its first few days of practice. But since his chosen site, Ohio Valley College in Parkersburg, W.Va., doesn't have a football program, the Titans would have had to absorb both the cost and liability of taking all of its equipment off campus.
"That idea got rejected," Dougherty said. "So our principal [John Brewer] said, 'Why don't you do whatever you were going to do away, here?' "
A new plan was hatched to stay at the school, still isolating the team from outside distractions but without the hassle and cost of traveling. The players will sleep on whatever air mattresses, sleeping bags and pillows they can lug to the building, with the senior class getting the added benefit of staying on the mats in the wrestling room.
The rest of the Titans -- Dougherty estimated the team's total number to be between 75 and 100 players -- will be housed on the main gym floor. The team will eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the school's cafeteria.
"The community has really been rallying behind us," said Marilyn Addie, the mother of senior co-captain Jason Addie who has been working alongside Holdaway's mother, Becky, to elicit food donations from local vendors. "We've already got several places lined up to provide lunch and dinner, and our parent volunteers will bring in the rest."
Dougherty has three practices scheduled each day, with three-hour sessions in the mornings and evenings that will focus on either offense or defense and a 21/2-hour mid-day session that will highlight special teams play. Sandwiched in between all of this will be weight lifting and film sessions.
The coaches also have lined up special nightly programs, including a talk from an undisclosed former Washington Redskin.
The players' only contact with the outside world will be a one-hour window each night in which they can talk on their cell phones.
"It all sounds like a good idea, until probably the second or third night," Dougherty said, laughing. "But one thing is for sure: There won't be much time for fooling around once lights are out. They're going to be dead tired."
And, he hopes, ready by Saturday to put on a show in the school's first ever Black-Silver game, a controlled scrimmage that Dougherty hopes will become a tradition.
"We're already so much further ahead of where we were last year," Dougherty said. "And I know we still have uphill battles to face in this conference, with two or three games it would be a miracle to win. But we want to be competitive this year, not just be a second-year school looking to win one more game than last year. We don't want any more 60-10 scores. We're really looking to compete this year."
The Titans finished their inaugural season with a 2-8 record, dropping all seven of their AA Dulles District games by an average of 32 points a game, including a 63-12 loss to conference champion Stone Bridge. But players and coaches are optimistic that this unique start to the season will bring different results.
"What we need most is to come together, and this will definitely do that," Jason Addie said. "Last year everyone was all new, so in the beginning of practice we were still trying to just learn each other's names.
"This year we all know each other, we know the offense, and we've worked hard in the offseason. Now it's time to go. No more playing catch-up."