GAINESVILLE -- Yes high school football is almost a year-round endeavor these days -- but don't dare try telling coaches and players that the first full practice of fall has lost any significance.
Thursday represented the first day that GHSA programs around the state could strap on pads.
And judging by the noises emanating from practice fields around northeast Georgia -- the popping of pads, thudding of bodies and resulting yells -- it is still very much a big day on every football calender.
"The biggest surprise you get is what are kids going to do when you strap on the pads," Chestatee football coach Stan Luttrell said. "That's the most exciting part, especially with the physical brand of football that we play. Kids go all summer, but today they don't have to pull up like they do when they hit a dummy or are going at each other with just a helmet on -- and they love it."
The hits were ringing out throughout northeast Georgia, in every manner of program. Access North Georgia sports editor Morgan Lee caught up with three of them on Thursday and will continue to catch up with others in the coming days. To watch a video feature from Thursday, simply scroll down and press "play."
First Day of Practice from WDUN TV on Vimeo.
"It's always a big day your first day in pads. The kids look forward to that," North Hall coach Bob Christmas said. "We've got a fairly veteran team that knows what to expect. And we've got a good group ninth graders and we get to see what they can do."
Through his 38 years in the coaching profession, Christmas still looks forward to the buzz of the first day, and with 28 days remaining before the season kicks off for most of the area's teams -- a handful will kick off on Aug. 23 -- there is plenty of reason for excitement.
Certainly there was plenty of buzz around Gainesville, where the Red Elephants took another step toward defending their 2012 Class AAAAA crown -- Gainesville's first-ever GHSA football title.
"It's just a good feeling to get back out here," Red Elephants coach Bruce Miller said. "It's good to see football on TV and see football taking place. Summer gets a little boring. Today is just about getting back in the rhythm of things. It feels good. After last year we feel some pressure, but we'll take that type of pressure."
Flowery Branch's Chris Griffin says his team -- as well as himself -- was also feeling the excitement during a spirited first session in pads on Thursday.
"When last season ended we started building up through spring practice, and now we've got something very close," Griffin said. "That light that's on us is getting brighter and brighter. It's fun. We scrimmage in 14 days. It's on us."