Olentangy Liberty High School football coach Steve Hale recently began to notice a difference in the atmosphere.


Olentangy Liberty High School football coach Steve Hale recently began to notice a difference in the atmosphere.

The unseasonably warm weather did nothing to hinder what he felt coming home from a recent camp where he'd worked with elementary and middle school-aged children on the sport he's been coaching for more than two decades.

Hearing a rebroadcast of a past Ohio State football game on the radio only enhanced what gets his heart racing every fall.

Finally, the next prep season is here.

The Patriots and the rest of the state's more than 700 OHSAA-sanctioned teams don't open the season until the fourth week of August, but the first day of official coaching begins Monday.

With that comes the thing that many coaches love and many players hate - two-a-day practices.

"What we look forward to the most is seeing how much our kids have grown over the past year," said Brian Cross, who is entering his 29th season as a head coach, including his third at Olentangy Orange. "I think the kids look forward to it being over with. Two-a-days are tough on the kids. We just had a four-day camp, and it's pretty hot, but as hot as it was, our kids played with a lot of enthusiasm."

Many teams throughout central Ohio will hold their scrimmages beginning Aug. 14, meaning each could have as many as 12 two-a-days behind them by the time they see their first action against someone other than their teammates.

Organizing and planning for two-a-days present challenges to those as experienced as Cross and Hale, let alone new coaches.

Jeff Pharion, who is entering his second season as St. Charles' coach, said his first two-a-days experience was "kind of like diving into the ocean off a diving board."

"The first year, we needed to teach a lot more in June and July, and we were a little bit behind coming into two-a-days," Pharion said. "I learned a lot last year and I feel very confident we'll be a lot better prepared this year."

Perhaps no central Ohio first-year coach will have a more daunting task during two-a-days than Central Crossing's Chris Harr, who served as an assistant with the Comets for three years before the South-Western City Schools' levy failure last August axed the 2009 season for all four of the district's programs.

With a mostly inexperienced roster, Harr plans to view every aspect of the next two weeks as a "teachable moment."

"A lot of the things that we'll be doing I did when I was at Marion Harding," said Harr, who was an assistant for four seasons with the Presidents, including when they made playoff appearances in 2002 and '03. "We plan to have a good mix of conditioning and the playbook. We've been focusing a lot on the mental part and putting what we can of the playbook in, and during two-a-days I'll put a lot of emphasis on special teams. We're so young that each day is a chance to get better."

During his first preseason a year ago, Briggs coach Derek Katris scheduled a long practice in the morning, followed by a short break and then another long practice in the afternoon.

This year, he and his staff are planning what he calls a more "traditional" two-a-days schedule, featuring long practices in the morning and evening. Perhaps the biggest change he plans to make, however, involves structure.

"We're going to try to work in more meetings and more film work this year," Katris said.

According to Pharion, the most important aspect of two-a-days for his coaching staff and players is the camaraderie that's built.

"I like that it's a tough thing and everybody does it together," Pharion said.

"With us having turf, the temperature is sometimes 20 to 30 degrees hotter than it is on grass. It's hard work, but it's a good, positive feeling to all go through it together."

"You kind of look at it like summer is over, but let's get the season started," Walnut Ridge coach Byron Mattox said. "I like the idea of practicing in the morning, getting up early and getting at it. I think the past few years we've gotten smarter at how we do it.

"We don't practice as long and there's not as much contact, but we try to be more efficient with our time."

At a glance

Below is a look at the Hartley and Reynoldsburg football teams entering Monday's first day of official coaching:

HARTLEY

•Coach: Brad Burchfield, second season

•2009 record: 7-3 overall, 0-1 (second) in CCL-Gold

•Last playoff appearance: 2008, lost in regional quarterfinal

•Opener: Aug. 27 vs. Amanda-Clearcreek

•Top expected returnees: Evan Jackson (OL/DL), Noah Key (RB), Joey Moore (OL), Austin Underwood (QB) and JaWaun Woodley (RB/DB)

•Preseason outlook: With one of central Ohio's strongest offenses returning, the Hawks must focus on improving a defense which allowed nearly 20 points per game and twice got lit up for more than 30.

REYNOLDSBURG

•Coach: Steve Evans, third season

•2009 record: 2-8 overall, 2-4 (tied for fifth) in OCC-Ohio

•Last playoff appearance: 2001, lost in regional semifinal

•Opener: Aug. 27 vs. Dublin Jerome

•Top expected returnees: Darien Bryant (TE/LB), Tim Fryer (OL/DL), J.C. Gibson (QB), Derrick Goliday (RB) and Gabriel Nimmons (WR)

•Preseason outlook: The Raiders should be more experienced offensively than a year ago when they were held to two touchdowns or fewer eight times. Their biggest issue, as was the case a year ago, involves increasing their depth.

For preseason information on other central Ohio teams, visit ThisWeekSports.com.