It's Here: First day of practice brings added excitement

By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY, News-Telegram Sports Editor

Aug. 4, 2008 - Monday was the first day of football two-a-day workouts for the Sulphur Springs Wildcats, with almost a month to go before the first game, but there was already anticipation on the practice fields of what should be an exciting season.

More than 80 varsity and JV players put on their blue Wildcat helmets and hit the James Cameron Memorial Athletic Complex fields a little past 7 a.m. today to officially start the 2008 season.

What faces them is a schedule that will likely include five opponents ranked in the Top 20 in the state at some point this season, a game televised by ESPN2, and - most importantly - a chance to make an impression in the playoffs.

"I'm excited about the year and what's going on," SSHS head coach Greg Owens said when the players broke at about 9:45 a.m. after a 2 1/2-hour first practice. "Our kids feel it and they know it. Physically, we're in a great spot right now. I'm not saying we're better than everybody else we're playing, but we're in a good spot because our kids have committed and we have some athletes."

"There's some big games on the schedule. The whole schedule is going to be fun. The people are excited about it, and we're excited about it."

Owens was encouraged by what he saw in the first practice - an extension of the spring practices and players who received the benefit of participating in The Edge summer strength and conditioning workouts, 7-on-7 games and the Lineman Challenge contest.

"It's been great. The first day's been awesome," Owens said. "It's our third year now, and everybody's starting to understand our system and what to do.

"Today's just like we picked up from where we left off in the spring. The excitement and the buzz is in the air about two-a-days and football. The 7-on-7 kids have been doing it all summer, from the freshmen on up, so the retention has been phenomenal. The linemen are in shape and they're physical."

The coaches met for three days last week at a retreat in Arkansas to get focused on the season and to finalize practice schedules. The first day was crisp and organized.

"We were pretty prepared going in," Owens said of the retreat. "We were able to get away and re-focus. I think we've gota tremendous staff. They're eager and hungry to get to work."

And the Wildcats will have plenty of work ahead of them. They will play three district champions, six teams that went to the playoffs and are in a district with the best winning percentage of any 4A district in the state (62.2 percent).

Fortunately, the Wildcats are coming off a district championship themselves and have 13 returning starters out of their 23 returning lettermen.

"We've got the horses to run with those guys," Owens said. "We don't have the depth that we need, so we've got to stay healthy. That's a key - if we stay healthy, we're going to be OK.

"To me, it's like the East Texas Game of the Week every week for us. Get your tickets and get your popcorn, because it ought to be fun every week."

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