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School calendar is not kind to Kanawha County football programs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coaches are fond of the term "level playing field'' when it comes to competing. But for football teams in Kanawha County, the field might seem a bit uphill to start the season.

With students in Kanawha reporting for classes on Aug. 9 this year, some valuable practice time figures to be lost for football teams gearing up for their respective season openers during the weekend of Aug. 29-31.

Compared to last year, the amount of time for preseason two-a-day workouts - grueling for players, great for coaches - has been drastically reduced.

Consider that in 2012, Kanawha teams started practice on July 30 and had 16 days to schedule drills (Monday through Saturday) before classes began on Aug. 17. This year, it's been shaved to just four days for extended workouts before classes start.

When you're faced with rebuilding a squad after graduation losses, than means a lot less time to get prepared. And if you're a Kanawha County team that happens to play one or both of its first two games against someone with a much later start date for classes (and more time for two-a-days), you can be at a disadvantage.

The eight football-playing high schools in Kanawha County compete in either the Class AAA Mountain State Athletic Conference (Capital, George Washington, Nitro, Riverside, South Charleston, St. Albans) or the AA Cardinal Conference (Herbert Hoover, Sissonville).

Only two other counties fielding teams in those leagues have earlier reporting dates for classes (see chart, below), while eight counties come later - some much later, like Putnam (Aug. 22), which is nearly two weeks after Kanawha.

"I figure we'll lose seven or eight hours of practice that second week,'' said Sissonville coach Eddie Smolder. "That's a lot when you're trying to prepare for a game in a short amount of time.''

For the most part, Kanawha County coaches are taking the high road when it comes to their situations, perhaps fearing they'll give their squads a built-in excuse if the season doesn't start off with success.

"Whether it does or doesn't [turn into a disadvantage], it's nothing we can really affect or control,'' said Nitro coach Derek Midkiff. "With our schedule, we'll go into it and be as effective with our time as we can. Hopefully we'll be ready to play when Poca comes around Aug. 30.''

Midkiff faces a double whammy of sorts: His team is one of four in Kanawha County replacing its starting quarterback - in a pass-happy offense, no less - and the Wildcats play their first two games against Putnam neighbors (Poca, Hurricane), who ostensibly have 11/2 extra weeks of two-a-day practices.

"It is what it is,'' Midkiff said. That's what we're given and we're not going to use it as a crutch. Other than that one week that really hurts us - the second week of practice - I don't think it's that big a deal.

"That second week [when school is in session], we may practice for an hour and a half, take an hour off, then practice another hour and a half. That's not a true two-a-day, but that's what we're given. We'll try to do what the college game does - they don't allow two-a-days on consecutive days anymore. To do that would be unfair to the kids to have to get up the next day and go to class and still be effective.''

Sissonville is another county program that must both find a new QB and play its first two games against teams with more lead time - Chapmanville (classes start Aug, 19) and Liberty Raleigh (Aug. 15).

"It's going to be tough this year,'' Smolder said. "We've always had 21/2 weeks of two-a-days before school starts. We'll have to cut out that second week of two-a-day practice time. Compared to other counties that start later, we could be at a disadvantage. We'll have to come up with ways to make up practice time.

"We thought about [two-a-days] during that second week, but it would be too tough on the coaches, too tough on the kids. I don't know if we want to put players through two-a-days and school. I don't think it would be right to the kids.''

Since teachers at Kanawha schools report Aug. 6 - the day after practice begins - there will be no time for morning workouts, even during the first week of practice. In past years, many teams preferred to practice in the early morning or the evening in order to avoid the heat of sweltering August days.

"There's no other way to do it,'' Smolder said. "We have to go in the evenings. We have no choice.''

Coaches are considering cutting corners by various means.

Some plan to hold Saturday drills during the first week, which for many schools had been a day of rest. Smolder thought about getting a jump-start on conditioning during July, but admitted "it's tough because of a lot of kids are on vacation.''

Donnie Mays, South Charleston's first-year coach, wants to take advantage of his school's earlier-than-most dismissal time of 2:25 p.m. by squeezing in reduced two-a-days.

"For that second week,'' Mays said, "we'll try to hit the field running and get out there as soon as possible. Go for about an hour 45 minutes each [practice] and take a break in between. Then get the kids home as soon as we finish - give them plenty of time to rest and whatever.''

Mays feels that by the third game of the season, whatever disadvantage Kanawha teams faced at the outset regarding practice time will be washed away.

"Generally, by the third or fourth game, everybody's in the same boat no matter how much practice you've had,'' he said. "And our first two games are in-county schools [George Washington, St. Albans].''

As Kanawha County teams tinker with how to best make use of their time during August drills, it only increases the importance of the three-week summer practice period that begins Monday around the state.

"We'll work really hard in June,'' Smolder said, "trying to get better in technique and fundamentals and get our schemes in on both sides of the ball. We'll utilize it more this year.''

"We'll take it the way we've always done in June,'' Mays said. "Generally we used June as a tool to install the offense in every phase of the passing game, so that when we get to August, we can focus on the running game and screens.''

Mays said SC plans to appear in six 7-on-7 passing competitions this month, starting with June 11-12 at Marshall.

Nitro also plans to participate in several 7-on-7s during June workouts, Midkiff said.

"The three-week period is big for us,'' he said. "For a team that runs the ball predominantly on every play, a 7-on-7 doesn't help them all that much. But it's really effective for us. It's a big part of our offense.''

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.

 


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