If you drive past most high schools in Athens or Limestone County in the late afternoon this week, you will see what to many is a welcome sight.
After long months of monotonous weightlifting and conditioning work, with some 7-on-7 drills thrown in, local football teams are finally able to get out on the practice field and prepare for the upcoming season.
Teams in Alabama could start practice Monday and are required to spend the first two days of practice in a helmet, shirts and shorts. On Wednesday and Thursday, the teams can go out in a helmet and shoulder pads, and full pads are allowed beginning Friday.
Athens High School will celebrate the start of full-contact practice by having a midnight practice Friday morning, the exact moment schools are allowed to practice in full pads.
The start of the season will be here before you know it, as the first game in Limestone County will be at Tanner, as the Rattlers host West Limestone on Thursday, Aug. 22.
Two more games take place the following night as Elkmont plays at Clements and Ardmore travels to play at West Morgan.
The first full week of the season begins the following week and will have games on Thursday and Friday as well. East Limestone plays at West Limestone on Thursday, Aug. 29, and three more games take place the following night, including a rivalry clash between Ardmore and Elkmont. The other two games that night are Gardendale at Athens and Tanner at Clements.
While there were a lot of questions about most of the teams last season, this season features a clearer picture. Last season, four of the seven football teams had new head coaches, and nobody really knew what to expect.
Ardmore, Clements, Tanner and West Limestone suffered through some growing pains with their new coaches, but there were some positives that came with the new head men as well. Clements made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, while Ardmore lost two games by two points or less and another by a touchdown.
This season, all seven head coaches return, and each of the newest coaches believe a full offseason will help greatly as they attempt to build the program in the image they desire.
While Cody Gross returns for his fourth season as Athens head coach, a big part of the Golden Eagles' offense will not be back. Quarterback Logan Smothers, a Nebraska commit, transferred to Muscle Shoals after his father, former Athens offensive coordinator Shane Smothers, took an offensive coordinator position for the Trojans.
Jordan Scott, who played inside receiver for Athens last season, is expected to take over at quarterback, and Gross is excited about his potential. Athens will still run the same offensive system, and Gross believes everyone will be pleased with how well it will run with Scott at the helm.
There are only a few more weeks until we can find out for ourselves just how improved each team in the county will be this year. While these next two-and-a-half weeks might seem to drag on for the players, they really will go by quickly.
It won't be long before we are all back under those Friday night lights, enjoying some football in Limestone County.
— Edwards can be reached at email@example.com.