Watchful eye

Watauga assistant coach Dustin Kerley supervises early practice conditioning Aug. 1

BOONE — The 2019-20 athletic season for Watauga’s High School athletic teams officially began Aug. 1.

Watauga’s football team was one of those teams practicing in the morning at the Leigh Cooper Wallace Field. The Pioneers welcomed more than 60 players, most who have already been working out with the coaching staff over the summer.

Pioneers football coach Ryan Habich held his first day of fall camp at Watauga for his seventh time since arriving at Watauga High. The workout began with conditioning, which was followed by a review of some of the terminology learned over the summer.

There were 12 conditioning sessions over the summer. If a player participated in seven of them, then he was exempt from participating from conditioning at the end of practice.

Habich estimated that 90 percent of the roster made at least seven conditioning workouts over the summer. Habich said the end of practice was shortened because of lightning strikes in the area, but was pleased with the amount of players who participated in those drills and the overall number or players who showed up for the first day of fall camp.

“We had about 62 or 63 players out, so that’s about normal,” Habich said. “It was warmer than usual. I told the kids that it was not hot because it does not get hot in Boone. It was warm and we went from there.”

Even after going through six previous first days of fall practice, starting the season never gets old for Habich.

The Pioneers are in the process of getting ready to defend their 2018 Northwestern Conference championship. Watauga went 13-0 before losing to eventual 3-AA state champion Weddington in the fourth round of the state playoffs.

Habich said that 2019 brings new challenges brought on by graduation of key players and improvement of returning players. Habich also welcomed a freshman class of 25 newcomers, a number that was encouraging to the coach.

“That’s the most freshmen that we’ve ever had here,” Habich said. “It kind of reminds me of the number we had in Raleigh. That was good and there is some really good talent in the freshman class, so those guys were getting used to practicing on the high school level.”

The Pioneers must go through six practices before they can have contact. Watauga gets its first contact against an opponent when the Pioneers scrimmage at Maiden at 10 a.m. on Aug. 10.

Five days later, Watauga hosts a jamboree at Appalachian State, starting at 6 p.m. Watauga plays its first regular season game against visiting T.C. Roberson on Aug. 23.

Habich said the Pioneers will have a full-contact practice on their sixth practice day, but it will be the only time Watauga will hold a full-contact workout.

“That first day of hitting is really the only time we go full-go at Watauga,” Habich said. “We use the scrimmages against other teams to do that. Once we start the game-weeks, we don’t do a lot of that in practices.”

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