It was hot.

Sticky hot. August-in-Washington hot.

On Aug. 18, for the first time since fall sports practices had started at Montgomery County Public Schools, the sun came out and the humidity went up. Even those standing completely still began to sweat.

But despite the heat, high schools across the county were abuzz with activity. Standing in the parking lot that afternoon at Sherwood High in Sandy Spring, you could see the Warriors' varsity football team on the field behind the school's stadium, the girls' tennis team conducting tryouts on the courts behind the school's gymnasium, the girls' and boys' soccer teams on the fields behind those courts, and the junior varsity football team in the distance. The cross-country and girls' volleyball teams also had started practice.

Sherwood Athletic Director Bob Cilento, walking his dog past the Warriors' football practice, smiled. He looked refreshed, ready to go, without the weight of rain-outs and postponements on his shoulders.

"It's exciting," he said.

It felt that way for athletic directors, coaches and players across the county. At Damascus High, Matt Reidy had been waiting more than eight months.

He had packed on muscle in the weight room, worked out with a personal trainer and sweated with his football teammates in summer running sessions. He had even given up baseball -- he had been a valuable player for the Hornets' varsity team -- to concentrate on the sport he loves.

But even after three days of two-a-day practice sessions -- Damascus, along with the rest of Montgomery County Public Schools teams, started practice Aug. 14 -- it wasn't until Aug. 18 that Reidy got back to what he had been missing: Contact.

That morning, on a shaded corner of the Damascus campus, the players, clad in mud-stained pants and tattered practice jerseys, hooted and hollered as Coach Dan Makosy announced they would run "Oklahomas."

The drill is as basic as football gets with two offensive players -- a running back and an offensive lineman -- going against two defensive players -- a defensive lineman and linebacker. It's tough, physical, demanding and intense. In other words, exactly what Reidy and the rest of the members of the defending Maryland 4A football champions had been dreaming about during the offseason.

Reidy went first, ran behind lineman Andrew Martinez, and -- wham! -- crashed full-speed into linebacker Ronnie Narr. The pop of shoulder pads colliding continued throughout the session, and football season officially had started.

"It was just awesome," Reidy said. "It's all your friends, and you don't want to hurt them, but you want to make that first contact. I had a good collision with Ronnie. It was fun."

On the other end of the county, at Lynnbrook Park in Chevy Chase, Annie Kizer was getting ready to put the finishing touches on three years of preparation.

Kizer, now a senior, had never played field hockey before coming to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High practices as a freshman three years ago. She joined a team with one of the best field hockey programs in the country, and slowly learned the position of goalkeeper. She was tutored by Elizabeth Schlossberg, the Barons' keeper at the time who earned All-Met honors as a senior in 2002.

Schlossberg was back again last week, helping at practice before heading back to the University of Pennsylvania where she will vie for a starting position. She watched as Kizer faced one-on-one breakaway after one-on-one breakaway, deftly deflecting shots and kicking away loose balls.

Kizer has put in the work. She played in a winter league and a summer league with teammates, she plays on a club team and she traveled to Europe with most of B-CC's team during the summer to play and sightsee.

"I've been preparing for this year for three years, and have worked so hard for it, so I'm really excited to go out and play," Kizer said. "There's always a sense of, 'Oh, I hope I don't mess up,' because I don't want to let down the [B-CC] tradition. But I know that there are 10 other girls on the team with me and 19 other girls on the team in general, and we have a great coach. It's a privilege to play for B-CC. There isn't another program like it, and I just take advantage of it."

The excitement felt by Reidy and Kizer about a new season was shared throughout Montgomery County last week, but perhaps nowhere did it mean more than at Sherwood High, where legendary coach Al Thomas made a return to the football field.

Thomas won five state titles at Seneca Valley, two more at Damascus and had served as an assistant at Western Maryland. But after a year off, in part because of health problems, Thomas accepted the job at Sherwood. He lured his replacement at Seneca Valley, Terry Changuris, back to the sideline after Changuris had decided to step down at Seneca Valley last winter, and he got former Wootton coach Bob Hampton to join him.

Last week the three yelled, chastised and prodded their new players during an intense practice. But every once in a while, they snuck in a smile. Just like all the players across the county, they were happy to be back.

Bethesda-Chevy Chase's Margaret Mulholland, right, and Springbrook's Connie Hoggson go after the ball during a preseason scrimmage on Tuesday at Lynnbrook Park in Bethesda."It was just awesome," Damascus senior Matt Reidy said of getting back to contact drills in practice. Reidy helped the Hornets win the Maryland 4A title last season.Bethesda-Chevy Chase field hockey Coach Amy Wood has guided the Barons into one of the nation's top programs. "It's a privilage to play for B-CC," Barons goalie Annie Kizer said.