If the heat and humidity of early August weren’t enough of a reminder to Murray County football players that football season is on its way, Indians coach Josh Lowe’s pronouncement that only 30 days stand between them and the season opener certainly was.

As the Indians approached the end of a workout that lasted more than two hours on Wednesday afternoon — the first day of official practice for high school football in Georgia — Lowe encouraged and pushed his players by vocalizing that deadline.

This first day was a big one for the Indians and Lowe, who is preparing for his first season at Murray County.

“I’m just thrilled,” Lowe said. “This is a dream job for me.”

But while Murray was the only local team starting a new era of coaching, the Indians definitely weren’t the only ones at work on Wednesday.

Dalton played early bird, working out for two and a half hours in the morning, while Northwest Whitfield opted for an evening session. Southeast is at a team camp in Shocker Springs, Ala., near Talladega, and will be there through Friday.

Dalton coach Ronnie McClurg was able to start practice knowing that he had his best numbers in summer workout attendance since he took over the program in 2001. But he’s eager to see his team make progress between now and Aug. 31, when the Catamounts kick off their season with a trip to play Calhoun High.

“We had a great workout,” McClurg said. “I was really pleased with the first-day effort and attitude that the kids put forth, and that’s what’s going to carry us through the season.”

Northwest spent the spring and summer installing a new offense, and the next weeks will be crucial to polishing a spread scheme based on the one used by two-time defending I-AA champion Appalachian State. The Bruins, who attended team camps during July that allowed them to use the offense against unfamiliar defenses, will get even more in-depth starting Monday — that’s when the Georgia High School Association allows teams to practice in full pads. Until then, players are limited to helmets.

“The kids really enjoy the offense,” Falleur said. “The camp at West Georgia and the passing camp last week at Calhoun enabled us to install a whole bunch of it from what we did in the spring.”

And Falleur was eager to get to the first day of practice.

“As a football coach, this is about the most exciting time of the year,” he said. “We’re fixing to see where you are after all the work in the winter, spring and summer. Everybody gets real excited.”

Like Dalton and Murray, Northwest was planning to devote a good portion of the first day to special teams. After summer workouts that focused on the basics of offense and defense, coaches can begin building toward having their teams ready to play a game from start to finish in all aspects.

That’s particularly important for Dalton, which lost a four-year starter at punter and kicker in Adrian Mora, who was also a four-time selection to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Team. Now, freshman Toombs Norman is at punter, while senior Jose Hauto — a first-year football player — will handle kickoffs and field goals and senior Dallas Hair brings some experience as the deep snapper.

“We started working on our kicking game and that’s something we’ll do on a daily basis to try and build a new kicking game,” McClurg said. “There’s a lot of way and areas other than the kicker to work on, so we’re doing that.”

While offseason workouts help prepare players for this phase of practice, more will be expected from them with each passing day as the first game approaches. Conditioning is a major part of the first few weeks of practice, and the first day often reveals plenty about how players spent their summer.

Although Murray ended its practice with a big push, breaking into groups for a series of 200-yard loops around the goalpost at the other end of the practice field, Lowe was eager to make his players understand that conditioning isn’t saved for that period alone.

“I want them hustling around the entire time,” he said. “We don’t walk on the practice field. I don’t believe you condition just at the end of practice.”

While temperature were in the mid-80s during Murray’s practice, the humidity made conditions less pleasant and water breaks were the rule during the Indians’ workout. A careful eye was also kept on the equipment that helps coaches and trainers monitor the heat index — one part of the GHSA’s new rules regarding the requirement that teams have a policy in place to prevent heat-related injuries.

That may be a bigger concern next week, when the pads come on, but that’s also when teams will start to sense the season’s presence even more.

Although Murray starts school on Monday and Northwest and Southeast begin on Aug. 10, Dalton will take advantage of a later start — its first day of classes is Aug. 13 — by traveling to Bell Buckle, Tenn., for its traditional week-long camp. The Cats leave on Sunday and will work out twice that day before starting three-a-day sessions in full pads on Monday.

That time will be crucial for Dalton — as will the next month — but McClurg is eager to see his team work on reaching its potential.

“I think we’re going to be a football team that you’ll see us get better every week,” he said. “The more snaps and reps we get, the more mature we’re going to be. I don’t know how good we’re going to be when we start, but as we keep going, I think we’re going to be a heck of a football team.”

Sports editor Larry Fleming contributed to this story.

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