Final practice

Watauga football coach Ryan Habich talks to the Pioneers after the final spring practice. The first day of official practice is Aug. 1.

BOONE — The Watauga football team has seen its share of volunteer workouts this summer. Watauga coach Ryan Habich said the Pioneers are about to take a big leap toward building for the 2019 season when those sessions end.

August 1 is when the voluntary nature of the workouts stop and they become mandatory. That is will the season officially begins and the intensity of the season starts to increase.

Before that occurs, Habich wants his players to be in top condition going into August. He’s been happy with the attendance of the summer conditioning program, which includes running and weight lifting.

Watauga has workouts scheduled from July 23-25 after getting the week of July 15-19 off. Watauga returns to workouts July 30 and holdS a mini-came July 31 before football starts for good. Watauga took Mondays and Fridays off during “live” practice weeks to allow multi-sport athletes to participate in practices and activities, such as camps, for those sports.

Habich is hoping the Pioneers will be able to concentrate on learning the team’s system with more focus and not worry about conditioning, since they’ll already be in shape.

“The mini-camp is basically we start practicing and we show the kids how we practice,” Habich said. “Aug. 1 that Thursday is we start official football practice and it’s mandatory that all of the kids be there. That’s when we start with our conditioning tests and we start practice.”

Watauga also will participate in live scrimmages, one at Maiden at 10 a.m. Aug. 10. Watauga will also host a four-team jamboree at Kidd Brewer Stadium at 6 p.m. Aug. 15 at App State with Ashe County, East Surry and North Surry participating. Since Watauga faces Ashe County during the regular season, the Pioneers will play just East Surry and North Surry.

Watauga lines up for its first game of the season, a showdown with T.C. Roberson, on Aug. 23. The game is the first of 11 straight Friday nights the Pioneers will take the field before finally getting a bye Nov. 8.

Watauga has the quirk in its schedule of not having a bye, usually the fifth week of the season, because the NCHSAA allowed West Caldwell to drop to the 2-A classification. Watauga, which finished 13-1 last season, was left trying to fill an open date and found that Gastonia Ashbrook was willing to play the Pioneers in Boone on Sept. 20. It’s a rematch game for Ashbrook, which lost to Watauga 49-0 at Jack Groce Stadium in the first round of the state 3-AA football playoffs.

Ashbrook is one of two newcomers to the Watauga schedule The other is Pfafftown Reagan, which hosts the Pioneers Sept. 6. Reagan finished the 2018 season with an 8-5 record and reached the second round of the state 4-AA playoffs by beating West Forsyth 34-20 in the first round, but losing to Richmond 49-7 in the second.

Reagan replaces Avery County, which plays North Buncombe on Sept. 6. Habich said despite Reagan’s lopsided loss to Richmond County, the Raiders add to what Habich feels is a tough schedule.

“The NCHSAA allowed West Caldwell to get out of our conference, so we couldn’t find a team to replace them in week 12, so we found Ashbrook in week five, which is our typical bye week,” Habich said. “We have to play 11 straight weeks against really good competition. Our schedule was tremendously upgraded this year with the addition of Reagan High School and Ashbrook.”

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