Photo by John Millikan

Photo by John Millikan

ALBANY -- There's nothing like starting over.

Nothing.

Everybody was perfect on Monday -- unbeaten and feeling it. And when you're perfect, you don't even mind the heat or the gnats, which were both unrelenting Monday afternoon.

But nobody cared. This was football, fresh and unblemished with a new-penny shine. This was that first step toward tomorrow and a new season, the beginning everyone was waiting for, the fresh start players and coaches had been dreaming about for months.

Monday was the first day of high school football practice.

"It was the first day of school, but I was thinking about practice all day in school,'' said Westover's talented receiver Kenneth Towns. "I was looking forward to the first practice for a while. That's when all the energy comes out.''

Towns, like just about every football player in Southwest Georgia, couldn't wait for Monday and a new season.

"This is my last year. I feel like I have to play every game like it's my last,'' said Towns, a senior. "I was really waiting for the first day of practice. Words can't describe how excited I am.''

Dougherty's Amaud Ross, a receiver and defensive back who might be one-on-one against Towns this season, couldn't wait either. He started firing off texts on Sunday.

"I texted all of the seniors on the team, telling them that we are in pads (on Monday),'' said Ross, a senior who and returning starter for the Trojans. "We're getting excited. We're anxious and humble.''

They were ready to kick down the door at Monroe to get back onto the field, where there's nothing but promise for the Tornadoes, who could be one of the top teams in the area.

"This is a day we've been looking forward to,'' said Monroe coach Charles Truitt, who brings back nine starters on defense and eight starters on offense, and a brand new quarterback in sophomore Charles Stafford, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 204 yards and three TDs in his first start as a freshman last year. Last year's QB, Devine Noel, is moving to the running back, slot-back position to make Monroe's offense even more dangerous.

"It's a good problem (to have two quarterbacks),'' Truitt said. "I think everyone was really looking forward to today, and this group has really prepared for it.''

Heat, gnats, pads -- no problem.

"It's not that bad,'' said Hakeem "Wal-Mart" Porter, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 310-pound junior who anchors Monroe's offensive line. "Nobody cares (about the heat). I've been looking forward to this day since the last day of school. It's been a long time coming. It seems like it's been a long, long time.''

At Monroe, they acted like the heat wasn't even there.

"If you love football, you find a way to get used to it,'' said Monroe linebacker Anthony Smith.

And Monroe receiver Terevious Hudson put it simply, and best.

"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time,'' he said. "It's here and now we are going to get ready for our first game. We scrimmage Lee County on Aug. 19, and open against Terrell County the week after that. We are getting ready, starting today.''

No one in town was more anxious to get the new season started than Albany High coach Felton Williams.

"Today is the beginning of one of the best seasons I've ever been associated with as a coach or a player,'' said Williams, who hopes to take the Indians to the playoffs. "The anticipation is so high.''

Why not?

Albany High has been coming back for two years. Former AHS coach Reggie Mitchell left the school to take the head job at Sherwood Christian two years ago and took several players with him. Williams, who admits it was devastating to lose his top players that year, was forced to start freshmen and sophomores. Now those players are junior and seniors, including two of the top linemen in Southwest Georgia, seniors Jontavious Morris and Roscoe Byrd. They were co-captains last year as juniors and start on both sides of the ball. Albany High's quarterback, Emmanul Byrd, is only a junior, but he is a three-year starter.

"We've got seven back on offense and nine back on defense,'' Williams said. "My biggest job is keeping them humble.''

Roscoe Byrd said he was excited.

"Today is the beginning,'' he said as he stood on the field Monday afternoon. "Just knowing the season is starting feels good. We've been working all summer, but it feels good to put the pads on and have the first day of practice like this.''

Morris said once the pads go on everything changes.

"When we put the pads on, that was it,'' he said. "It feels good. No more two-hand touches. We've got pads on. It's a new season. Our adrenaline stays pumping. We were ready for this.''

Every team had voluntary workouts, and most of the players lived in the weight room this summer just to get ready for Monday and the new season.

"I know we're stronger,'' said Dougherty coach Jesse Hicks, who took over the program last year. "It's seems like this is the first year and that last year was zero year. It's not that last year didn't matter. I'm not saying that. It's just that we've had the kids for a full cycle, and we feel we'll be much better. We've had a full year in the weight room, and they've had a full year (with the coaches) and they have an understanding for what we are doing here.''

The Dougherty kids felt like it was the first day in pads and were excited, but they also felt it was just another day at the office -- which never closed down.

"We've been at it since Nov. 8,'' Hicks said.

His players agreed.

"It's Day 1, and that's exciting because we are in pads today,'' said Dougherty offensive lineman Camereon Williams, a senior. "It means the season is here, but we started on Nov. 8. That's when we started getting ready. But today is the day we put on pads. Today's the day you show what you can do. Today we separate the men from the boys.''

That was the sentiment all over Albany.

"I'm ready for the season,'' said Westover defensive tackle Chris Green, a senior. "This is where all the hard work over the summer pays off. We worked too hard this summer for it not to show now. This is the first day of real practice. Today is the day we start over and start focusing on the season.''

There's nothing like starting over.

Nothing.