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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Reeltown players take on the first day of fall practice Monday afternoon.

“It starts today.”

That’s what Reeltown coach Matt Johnson told his players first thing during Monday’s first official football practice. 

Under AHSAA rules, high school football teams can wear only jerseys and helmets the first day of practice so despite nothing changing between the opening day and what a lot of teams have been doing for weeks now, there was definitely a different feeling in the air.

“It’s kind of crazy because it is the same as we’ve been doing all July,” Johnson said. “It’s the first official day of practice even though it’s the exact same thing. There is an aura about it. There’s an energy and an excitement. It’s here; we only got 13 more working days before we turn on the lights so it’s definitely a different energy.”

Although the Rebels certainly felt that energy early on, Johnson would’ve liked to see it stay up throughout the first practice.

The summer heat really started to bear down on the Rebels about midway through Monday’s practice, and Johnson could see how it affected his players. But they brought it back up again when they got to conditioning, and Johnson certainly isn’t against the heat. He said it brings a challenge he and his coaching staff can’t provide.

“The energy was good then it just fluctuated with the weather,” Johnson said. “When we started the conditioning period, they got after it. If they kept up that same energy when they’re doing football, we’re going to be all right. We have to have energy throughout.”

And the first practice wasn’t exactly the same technically. There were a few slight changes. While some high school teams work on special teams throughout the summer, Reeltown really keeps that as a focus only during the preseason. That was the first thing the Rebels opened with Monday, putting the kickers and punters to work.

Another difference is Monday is when the game planning started for Reeltown. With a Thursday night game looming against Bullock County on Aug. 22, there’s not a whole lot of time to get ready so the Rebels immediately went to work looking ahead to their first opponent.

And of course there’s still some competitions brewing. Much of Reeltown’s offense has been figured out as it returns a lot from last year’s prolific squad, but the defense has a lot more question marks.

“There are two big things,” Johnson said. “We still have some competition at linebacker to see who those starters will be to fill that whole core. The other thing is the rotation we’ll have in the secondary. We have a few guys back there that can play any position in the secondary, so (we’re) finding that fit of who goes where. We need to find that right mix to make sure we have the best out there all the time.”

But the biggest standout of the day for Johnson actually came in an unlikely spot for the Rebels. Reeltown will be breaking in a new quarterback this year as rising sophomore Iverson Hooks is expected to start, and there will be an important group in front of him.

“I thought our offensive line had a really good day,” Johnson said. “Our offensive line did a good job of getting after it, getting a good push and getting to the right spot. We started easing into a little game planning (Monday), so they saw some different things and some different looks.” 

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.