Football players at E.C. Glass and Heritage high schools hit the turf early Thursday morning, and they weren’t alone.
All across the Lynchburg area, teams took part in the first official day of high school football practice.
And as they did, new storylines mixed with old ones. Fresh players joined veterans. Changes that once seemed far off on the horizon finally came into view.
The defending state champs began shortly after 7 a.m., clad in orange and navy. Be better than you were yesterday — that was one of the main messages in Pioneer Country.
The boys from midtown, which appear mighty strong on paper, were full of energy in their royal blue helmets and T-shirts. Check your ego at the door — that was a message reverberating around Glass.
Glass kicks off the high school football season Thursday, Aug. 29, when it plays host to Charlottesville at City Stadium. Everyone else is in action the following night.
The season is only four weeks away. And while Heritage and Glass are focusing on their own strengths and weaknesses right now, other teams across the area lie in wait.
In the Seminole, there’s Jefferson Forest, which returns a host of playmakers that helped the Cavaliers average 46 points per game last season. JF is led by new coach Paul White, who has signaled his new offense will be similar to the wishbone installed by former coach Bob Christmas.
There’s Amherst, which looks to get back to its old ways after a one-win season, and is led by Christmas, who took over in the offseason.
There’s Liberty Christian, which moved down from Class 4 to Class 3 and figures to cause waves in Region 3C with its spread offense.
There’s a savvy Rustburg group that brings back plenty of experience and don’t-overlook-us Liberty, which will showcase plenty of new faces.
And there’s Brookville, which had what coach Jon Meeks described as “maybe the best [opening day] in my career.”
The Bees went to a team camp last week. When they returned Meeks asked them to put football aside for one week. The result was a renewed excitement for Thursday’s sessions.
“They came out ready to play,” Meeks said.
At Heritage, Bradley’s group moved from station to station for conditioning drills. Thursday might not have felt like the beginning of something, because the Pioneers have been busy with spring and summer sessions and weight room training.
This was outside linebacker Spencer Goolsby’s fourth opening day.
The senior helped Heritage defeat Phoebus for the Class 3 title in December.
“It’s not hard to find motivation,” he said. “This is the last go-around with my boys. If anything, we’re working harder [than last year], so we’re already ahead of where we were last year.”
Kameron Burns, a 15-year-old sophomore, takes over at quarterback for HHS.
“It’ll pay off when the season comes,” was how he described the intense workouts. “This group right here, when the lights come on Friday nights, we’ll be ready to play.”
Because the VHSL relaxed its rules in 2011, allowing teams to take part in what is virtually year-round practice, Heritage already has installed most of its offensive and defensive schemes, Bradley said.
“Now it’s just about tuning it up,” he added. “We’ve got enough leadership coming back with the rising juniors and rising seniors that we have a foundation laid. So it’s not about learning, it’s about implementing what we’ve done and getting better at it.”
Across town, Glass coach Jeff Woody talked about the excitement.
“Every Day One is exciting,” he noted. “It’s Day Two or Three you’ve got to worry about, when they start to get heavy legs.”
Still, there’s been a buzz around Glass football for quite a while. And this year’s team, particularly, will be loaded with playmakers, like quarterback DreSean Kendrick and running backs Ty Foster and Quoterris Craighead. The lines are bloated with size and experience. The receiving corps is crisp.
Expect the Hilltoppers to implement more I-formation offense as they gain a tight end this season.
“We have high expectations,” Woody said. “But I will say this: We’re not worried about any championship trophies right now. We’ll worry about that when it gets here. Right now we’re worried about being the best we can possibly be.”
Still, one can’t help but notice the enthusiasm.
“I really feel like we’ve got something brewing,” defensive tackle Holden Fretz said. “There’s more energy. The confidence is there. We’ve just got to maintain it. … Drop your ego at the door, that’s the most important thing. If you do the right thing when no one is looking, if you do the right thing all the time, you’re gonna reap what you sow.”
Tackle and guard BJ Wheat, entering his fourth varsity season, talked Thursday about making history.
“We’ve lost in the playoffs the last three years,” the 6-foot-5, 310-pound senior said, “so we want to break barriers.”
Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527.