At midnight on Sunday night, the Tallassee Tigers set their sights on their first fall practice in preparation for their season opener on Aug. 20. Even with the team getting a jump start on its drills, senior linebacker Will Smith just couldn’t wait that long.
Smith is one of countless players in Alabama who was counting down the days to Monday, the first day in which AHSAA programs could practice in helmets and shorts as part of an acclimation period to help make up for the cancelation of spring practice. But Smith said he couldn’t wait for the clock to strike 12 to get to J.E. “Hot” O’Brien Stadium; instead, he arrived about an hour early and bided his time outside.
“I was really excited. I was ready to get out here and get ready for Reeltown in a few weeks. It’s going to be a good game,” Smith said after Tallassee’s practice ended at about 2:20 a.m. Monday morning. “I’m very happy. I mean, I came out here thinking we would come out here and be OK but be a little bit rusty. We came out here, and at the drop of a quarter and did good. Play after play, we were running it smoothly. We did good.”
Smith wasn’t the only one at Tallassee who struggled to sit at home until it was time to hit the field.
Tallassee head coach Mike Battles Jr. said he was out at the stadium before it was officially time to get started, explaining that he arrived at about 1 p.m. Sunday, prepared a few different things for a while, went home then came back at about 8:30 p.m. Battles was beaming by the time practice was over, as he was clearly excited about the opportunity for his players to get back together.
Battles said the coaches had asked the players whether they wanted to practice at midnight as they had the last four or five years to start fall practice or to instead wait until 5 p.m. on Monday. The players went with the recent tradition, which was another clear indication they weren’t willing to wait much longer in an offseason that has thrown so many unexpected twists and turns their way.
Working through the unusual offseason has been an unbelievable challenge to so many involved, including Battles.
“It’s been difficult because you try to keep yourself up and try to keep 60-something players and the coaches up. You’re hearing good news and bad news. I just had to try and stay positive,” Battles said. “I told them that we’re going to have to adjust and then we’ll keep going. The one thing we can’t do is just decide, ‘Oh, it’s just too much to deal with.’ Our kids did a great job. They did everything we asked them to. They continued to work hard even when we took a week off there in the middle of the summer.
“They’ve continued to do good things. That’s all you can ask.”
The Beauregard Hornets followed suit by practicing Monday morning as well, albeit not quite as early as the Tigers. Beauregard head coach Rob Carter and his players were out on the team’s practice field Monday morning as the skill players worked on different offensive plays and the linemen had their first battles against the blocking sled.
There was still plenty the players weren’t able to do yet — full contact is not allowed during the acclimation period, and the players aren’t allowed to put on their shoulder pads yet — but Monday was a step in the right direction as teams work toward their first scheduled games in late August.
“We came in this morning, and they were ready,” Carter said. “They’re excited. They understand this is the next three or four weeks and we’re preparing for our first game. They see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re hoping it stays on track and we’re able to start Aug. 21.”
Monday was not a mandatory start date for teams; Auburn High, for example, will instead hold its first practice Tuesday. But Monday was the first opportunity to organize a practice with a football on the field, and for many teams it couldn’t have come sooner.
The first practice back was certainly unusual at Tallassee, which featured numerous coaches and players wearing masks and Battles repeatedly urging players on the sidelines to spread out. But even with the extra steps of precaution and any uncomfortable new gear that was required, the extra steps were well worth it for players such as Tallassee senior receiver Thomas Battles, the head coach’s son.
Thomas explained this offseason was one full of unease as he and the team’s 13 other seniors held their breath and hoped they would have one more fall together. Thomas admitted he was a little emotional about the midnight practice being his last at Tallassee, adding it was a tradition he’s enjoyed and one he was glad he was a part of one more time.
“All we could do was just hope for a chance to get out here and play the sport that we love. The fact that we’re out here still is a blessing,” Thomas Battles said. “We really hope to continue this process. We’ve overcome a lot of adversity, and I’m really glad to be back out here.
“It feels so great to be back underneath these lights.”
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!