The whistles were out and footballs were in the air on Wednesday marking the first day of football practice for Lincoln County.
Some football programs had more people show up for the first day than others. The North Lincoln Knights, a member of the Southern Foothills 1A Conference, had 77 players. They finished the year with only 58 players.
â€œIâ€™m happy with the turnout, about what we expected based on how many we finished with last year and the incoming class,â€ Knightsâ€™ head coach Lonnie Custer said.
The Knights now have football facilities which makes for more conducive practice environment.
â€œPeople take things for granted. When you go through adversity, it makes you appreciate what you have. Nothing has been given to us, weâ€™ve earned it, so these kids are definitely going to take care of it,â€ Custer said.
The Mustangsâ€™ numbers were also up, they had 76 players come out compared to the 40 they finished with last year, a fact head coach Matt Rikard was pleased with.
â€œWe are happy with the turnout. One of the major emphasis of the coaching staff was to get the interest back up in the kids. We spent a lot of time getting students out before that hadnâ€™t played,â€ he said.
Rikard believes the recruiting process begins at the middle school level. He and his staff made several visits to assure rising ninth-graders would be there on the first day of football.
â€œCoach Beatty did a great job talking to the rising ninth-graders and getting the interest up. I visited the middle school and 43 signed up, then I went back two more times to keep the interest up,â€ he said.
While the numbers were up at East and North, numbers were down at West Lincoln. The Rebels had 59 players which is considerably lower than the 74 they had last year.
Rebelsâ€™ head coach Butch Parker believes the low number could change in the near future.
â€œIâ€™m expecting several more kids to come out that are still on vacation and then weâ€™ll pick up some kids that had a transportation problem,â€ he said.
The lack of number left Parker with questions as to why more people werenâ€™t there on the first day of practice.
â€œI thought that after the 8-2 JV year the interest would be a little higher, but with back-to-back 1-10 seasons maybe some people are apprehensive and I understand that,â€ he said.
â€œWe had such a young team last year that maybe some of the kids are looking at it like everybody is back, so I wonâ€™t get to play,â€ Parker said.
Parker feels the athletes that are out there are some of the best his school has to offer.
â€œWe donâ€™t have quantity, but I do feel like we do have quality. You canâ€™t play but 11 at a time,â€ he said.
Like Parker, Rikard believes itâ€™s not the number that matters as much as athleticism.
â€œI didnâ€™t get all of them that I wanted (athletes), but the ones that I got are good quality people and athletes. Some of them lacking football fundamentals will learnâ€”they are getting better and showed a great deal of improvement,â€ he said.
Another school that lacked a big turnout is the Lincolnton Wolves. Usually in the 90+ range, the Wolves had 72 players, with half being JV show up.
Cloninger, like Parker, was left wondering why more didnâ€™t make the initial commitment.
â€œSome moved, some are ineligible and some decided they didnâ€™t want to make that commitment to work hard and play football,â€ he said.
Reiterating it takes a tremendous commitment to play football, Cloninger said he will not recruit more players to come out.
â€œThe kids that are here, are the ones we are going to play with. Coach Harris told me it (football) makes a man out of you, some people decided to take the easy route and sit on the couch and play Nintendo.â€
Lincoln County athletes will not begin any contact until the middle of next week. Custer feels that will give him a better chance to evaluate his talent.
â€œThis is a dog and pony show right now, it doesnâ€™t matter until you put the pads on. When you put the pads on you separate the men from the boys.â€
by John Mark Brooks