On Monday, all over this great big state, the sounds of whistles blowing and coaches barking could be heard at high school stadiums and practice fields everywhere.

It was no different in Central Texas, where Navarro, Marion, Seguin and Lifegate high schools opened the 2019 football season with the first day of practice.

They join more than 1,500 schools in the state in prepping for Friday Night Lights, a religion in Texas.

Everybody’s undefeated, and the optimism and excitement of the coming fall was evident at all our area schools.

At Navarro

By 8 a.m., the Panthers had already gotten in two hours of practice.

“Last year we went at 6:30,” head coach Rod Blount said. “I talked to some of my captains and they wanted to get out here early, kind of beat the heat, and get it done before it gets too hot.”

Coach Blount made his way around the field at Navarro High School, checking in with the coaches and observing drills and players.

“It was a great teaching day,” Blount said. “We’re starting over like nobody has ever played football before. We’re teaching the proper stance, start, techniques, alignment. We’ll start getting into our plays and our fits for defense, but it’s basically starting from scratch and making sure everybody is doing every little detail right.”

Blount was more than pleased with the turnout of athletes wanting to play football this fall.

“We had a lot of great numbers out, it should have been 102,” Blount said. “To be 102 strong is pretty good at 6 in the morning on the first day.”

Blount will be replacing several graduated seniors, but is optimistic he has the horses coming in.

“We have a lot of young guys that need to step up and fill some shoes,” Blount said, “but I think we have the right guys to do it.”

Getting the athletes focused on the task at hand is a priority for the coach.

“We’re just trying to get better every single day,” he said. “We’re not worried about what we did last year, or what we’re going to do in the future, we’ve got to get better each and every day per person, and that makes us better as a team.”

The pads and full contact practices won’t happen until Saturday, per UIL rules.

“We won’t see any live contact until Saturday,” Blount said. “We’ll slowly add pads, but right now we’re just teaching the safe way to tackle, taking the head out of the game.

Right now we’re able to slow it down and step through it all.

The coach had been ready for the first day of practice to finally get here.

“It’s an exciting day,” Blount said. “But we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve been working on getting stronger and more explosive all summer, now we’ll just see what the kids can do with it.”

At Marion

Over at Marion, head coach Ryne Miller was also happy with the numbers, as about 90 kids came out to practice.

“That shows our program is growing,” Miller said. “It’s about 15 more than we had last year. It’s a good group of kids and a great group of seniors that are going to lead them.”

The Bulldogs began practice at 7 a.m. although the coaches were there earlier.

“Most of the coaches were up here about 5 or 5:30, ready to crank it up,” Miller said. “We got started about 7 and the good thing is, all the kids were on time and they all had their physicals.

“That’s something you always dread, but we were 100% today. That just shows the dedication of the kids to our program.”

Like Blount over at Navarro, Miller will emphasize teaching in the first couple of weeks of practice.

“There’s a lot of learning going on right now,” he said. “We’re an up tempo offense and an up tempo defense, so we want to make sure all the learning and retention is in place.”

The next priority is the competitive nature of the practices.

“I preached to these guys before we started today that it’s about competing,” Miller said. 

“The spots are solid, but everything is open. You have to come out and compete, go full speed and learn and ask questions — this is the time to do it.”

He was pleased with what he had seen on the field through the first couple of hours of practice.

“They’ve done an amazing job so far,” Miller said. “They were ready to go early, they’re asking questions, they’re flying around and having fun.”

He was ready for the start of the season for a while this summer.

“You always get cranked up for it a little bit,” Miller said. “I woke up at 4 this morning, ready to go. You kind of get those butterflies, you know you’re in the right business when you’re just excited to go.”

At Seguin

For his fourth year at the helm at Seguin High School, head coach Travis Bush was bearing the heat with his players, already in the 90’s by 10 a.m.

“It’s been good,” he said. “I was just telling the guys that in my four years here, it was the best first day we’ve had. The culture is getting better, the effort and the attitude was great. We got a lot of reps in for two-and-a-half hours of practice.”

With his system in place for the Matadors for the last three seasons, the athletes came in better prepared.

“There’s a lot of retention, so we’re able to start way further ahead than we’ve ever been on the first day,” Bush said. 

“It’s just about getting reps. We’ve got it installed on offense, defense and special teams, so it’s about that and getting as many reps as we can.”

He’s anxious to answer the unknown questions of this season.

“From a head coach’s perspective, you’re just curious,” Bush said. “We’ve got a lot of pieces to the puzzle we’ve got to fill, so it’s a matter of who is going to fill those spots.You always have young men that surprise you and work their way into roles, so you’re always curious to see what kind of team you’re going to be.”

About 200 athletes came out for the first day of practice.

“It’s growing a little bit every year,” Bush said. “We have the smallest senior class we’ve had with 16 seniors, so there’s a lot of youth, a lot of talented young guys coming up.”

Combined with the middle school camp last week, the coach has seen more than 300 athletes in the last seven days.

“We had great numbers for the camp last week,” Bush said. “It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning, so a lot more guys want to stay with it.”

At Lifegate

New football coach John Stout had a great day at practice on Monday, his first as the head coach of the Falcons.

“It was awesome, I loved it,” Stout said. “Just being around these kids and being able to teach them the game of football means a lot.”

The players endured the heat of an afternoon practice, but came into the camp fit and ready to go.

“I was surprised at the shape they were in,” Stout said. “It shows they did a lot of work with the summer program.”

Stout will emphasize fitness and fine tuning of plays for the six-man team over the next couple of weeks of practice.

“We’ll work on the execution of the same plays we’ve been running for years,” he said. “We’ll make sure we’re crisp and clean on everything we do.”

The opening practice for the new head coach was something he had anticipated for years.

“I’ve been waiting for a long, long time,” he said. “It was about three or four nights before it that I wasn’t sleeping very well, so I slept fine last night.”

Players were just as pumped as he was to get the season going.

“They were great, excited and ready to get this thing started,” Stout said.

Kevin Duke is the sports editor of the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail him at sports@seguingazette.com .

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