It was hot. The drills were tedious. Westlake's first football game still loomed three weeks away. Yet Aaris Reed left the Wolverines' first practice a bit surprised.
"Oh, it was easy, man," the senior running back said.
That's because the biggest pest to an ambitious, talented team was not with Westlake on Monday and won't be this season. Reed and the Wolverines' other two top seniors -- defensive lineman Darius Powell and running back/defensive back Pha'Terrell Washington -- began practice for their senior season without the burden of a college decision.
They made oral commitments over the past two months, with Powell and Reed pledging to North Carolina and Washington to Maryland. That's good news for perhaps the most talented team in Southern Maryland.
"I think it's a good thing," Westlake Coach Dominic Zaccarelli said. "They can just focus on football. Everything's behind them. Now they can just look forward."
Westlake, which has put more players on Division I college rosters the past decade than any other Southern Maryland school, has never had a luxury like this. Even in the Class of 2001, which included five players who signed with Division I schools -- LaVon Chisley (Penn State), David Conley (Air Force), Recardo Evans (Army), Maurice Smith (Maryland) and Randy Starks (Maryland) -- only Smith made his commitment before the 2000 season.
"It's kind of worked out to our benefit," Zaccarelli said.
Powell, Reed and Washington won't come home to phone calls from college coaches and recruiting services. They won't worry about finding the right roster to fit into. They won't worry about padding their statistics or filling their highlight tapes.
"There's a lot less stress on you," Reed said. "You don't get mad when Coach takes you out of the game because you're not hungry for stats."
Said Powell: "That's one of the main reasons why I committed early, because I didn't want all those distractions. I've got enough other things to worry about."
The distractions are gone, which should help a team that needs to focus if it wants to realize its potential. The Wolverines finished 9-3 last season and lost to Lackey in the 3A playoffs.
"It's not like, 'Man, I've got to produce out here,' " Washington said. "It's much easier now. All you've got to do is work on your grades and not worry so much about the football stuff."
Don't get Washington wrong, though. He felt burned by some schools that recruited him but didn't offer him scholarships. He wants to use this season to prove them wrong.
Washington wants to have his best season, but he doesn't feel any make-or-break pressure to do so.
"As I see it, I got my scholarship," Washington said. "Now it's time for me to show why I got my scholarship to Maryland, show that I can take it to the next level."
Zaccarelli said that's the right attitude for players in this position. It would take an extraordinary circumstance to change the commitments, but they are not official until February. An off-field misstep could cost them the scholarship.
"The scholarship is contingent on" this season, Zaccarelli said. "The kids know that."
Zaccarelli also knows that just because the stress of a college search is off their shoulders, Reed won't be able to call practices easy.
"I'll make it a little harder for them," Zaccarelli joked.