The heat was on Monday morning, literally, but that didn't stop area high schools from hitting the field for the first official day of football practice.
"We had a great first practice," said Petal coach Marcus Boyles after the first of two practice sessions Monday.
"The kids reported in pretty good shape, the attitude was good and the effort was good. Ninety-nine percent of the kids worked hard in the summer and it showed today, because it was hot out there." The Panthers went through a two-hour, 15-minute practice that was long on conditioning in the 90-plus degree heat. "We've been busting our butts all summer, at least three times a week, sometimes four or five times a week, getting ready for the season," said senior quarterback Larson Barkurn. Barkurn is the player Petal is counting on to replace last season's Mississippi Mr. Football, Anthony Alford, who led the Panthers to the Class 6A state championship game. "I've got huge shoes to fill," Barkurn said. "Anthony was the best player to ever come through here. But I'm confident in my game and I think we're going to have a good season." At Hattiesburg High, first-year head coach Danny Nowell pointed to his team's off-season program under the direction of Elvin Jackson for getting the Tigers into shape. "It went real good today," Nowell said. "Nobody got tired, everybody was hustling, everybody was bouncing around, and a lot of that had to do with our conditioning program. That's going to pay off for us." Expectations are high at HHS after the Tigers made it to the 6A playoffs last year in what was supposed to be a rebuilding campaign. Hattiesburg is particularly experienced on defense, where it returns a number of key players from last season. "We're expecting a lot out of our defense, but we're trying to be better," said senior linebacker Anthony Keyes. "Coach Jackson has got us in great shape. We're more conditioned than we've ever been before. Part of it is getting prepared for the heat, preparing to be better." At Oak Grove, the Warriors began preparing for a fresh start this season. Head coach Nevil Barr has been tasked with replacing nearly every starter on both offense and defense, as well as a few on special teams. Barr said Monday he was encouraged by what he saw out of his players, but he remained cautious. "For the first day, I thought it was good," he said. "I think we're going to be OK. But from the kicking game on down, we lost it all after last year. Normally, you lose a few, replace a few. This is just one of those years. "I think we've got some talent, but they're young. They just need some games." In addition to only returning three full-time starters from last season, Barr's coaching staff has undergone a makeover as well. Last year's offensive coordinator, Casey Cain, has been shifted to defensive coordinator, and former NFL quarterback Brett Favre will be in charge of the offense this season. Tim Heldt, who retired prior to last season, is back as an assistant, and offensive line coach Lonnie Schraeder left to take the head job at Sacred Heart last month. Kirk McCarty and Cameron Myers, a Hattiesburg High transfer, each took snaps at quarterback on Monday, and Barr was pleased with their performance. "Both quarterbacks looked real good today," he said. "Everything looked smooth."