BOONE — Watauga’s football team has worked its way through a spring and a summer filled with conditioning, weight lifting and learning the Pioneers’ defensive and offensive schemes.
Those workouts were voluntary, even though it was a good idea for players to attend since the more conditioning they did over the summer, the less they’ll have to do in the fall.
Watauga opens fall practice in the morning of Aug. 1 when practice is no longer voluntary. After final voluntary workouts July 30 and 31, the Pioneers officially begin their defense of their Northwestern Conference championship one day later with the first of three days of practice in just helmets, jerseys and shorts.
The next three days, Watauga will be allowed to work out in shoulder pads. On the seventh day of practices, Watauga will be allowed to participate in full contact.
On Aug. 9, Watauga scrimmages at Maiden in the Pioneers’ first full-contact workout against another team. The Pioneers open the regular season at home in Jack Groce Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 23 against T.C. Roberson.
“Everybody who is going to play football needs to show up,” head coach Ryan Habich said. “It’s kind of a busy week because you’re still finishing up some workouts when you have lifting, running, football and maybe some team activities and then you officially start.”
There is more involved on the first day of practice than tossing some footballs on the field. Besides the actual workouts, the coaching staff needs to cut through the red tape of forms needed to be approved to allow the players to participate in the workouts.
“You have to make sure the kids have the paperwork needed to play and the forms that the state requires you to have,” Habich said. “You have to make sure that’s all in line for the first day of practice and getting them ready for that first day, because once you start, it goes by pretty quick.”
Watauga has some holes to fill from its 2018 edition that went 13-0 before losing to eventual state 3-AA champion Weddington in the fourth round of the NCHSAA state playoffs. Watauga won its first NWC championship since 2007 and its first outright title since 1980 by breezing through the NWC schedule with a 7-0 record.
But the schedule will be different in 2019. West Caldwell’s request to leave the NWC and play in the 2-A classification was granted, which left Watauga with a hole in its schedule. The Pioneers will play Reagan, a solid 4-A program, in the place of a West Caldwell team that Watauga crushed 62-0.
Longtime rival Avery is also no longer on the Watauga schedule and was replaced by Gastonia Ashbrook. Watauga beat Ashbrook 49-0 in the first round of the 3-AA state playoffs, but Habich expects an improved Ashbrook team to face the Pioneers in 2019.
Watauga must play the 2019 season without its leading rusher from 2018, Bryce Satterfield. He gained 1,661 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. The Pioneers lost Satterfield when his father, Scott Satterfield, accepted the head football coaching position at Louisville.
Jake Watson was moved from tight end to take over for Satterfield at running back. Despite losing his top running back, Habich is optimistic about the Pioneers’ offense going into fall camp.
“Offensively, we feel pretty good,” Habich said. “We don’t have the depth we want, but the with the first-string guys we feel pretty confident.”
Defense is another matter. The Pioneers must replace three linebackers and two safeties, including Jackson Greene, who played in the East-West All-Star game in July and is walking on to the App State football program.
“We lost a lot of defensive linemen and linebackers to graduation,” Habich said. “We lost a lot on defense, so I think the biggest concern is depth and defensive players. We don’t want to just put a guy in, but we want to find somebody who has the skill set to go in and do the job and help us.”