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WCHS football starts practice at 5:53 a.m.
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WCHS football practice began at 5:53 a.m. Friday morning.

While many folks were resting comfortably in bed, football players were running hills, pushing sleds, and testing their toughness with grueling conditioning drills during the team’s annual Dawn of the Dead practice.

It’s all part of changing the culture of Warren County football. Head coach Matt Turner doesn’t want last year’s memorable 8-3 season to be a blip. Turner wants winning Pioneer football to be the norm.

“When your sides start hurting, your legs are burning, and you want to give out, we need players who are willing to push through it,” said Turner. “It takes a lot of mental toughness. Some guys are there. Some guys struggled, but everybody did every drill. I think we have a good group of young kids and we’re on the cusp of being a tough team. This is one of the things we do to get us battle tested.”

Perhaps the most competitive part of the morning workout, which was held on the Nunley Stadium field, was the tug-of-war. Players grunted and grimaced as they pulled with all their might in an effort to win the challenge.

The team which emerged unbeaten to win the tug-of-war was composed of Ethan Bernhardt, Dayton Jernigan, Brayden McKinley, Kaden Rutledge and Lukas Bernhardt.

After doing a wide variety of drills, the day ended with players running 16 hills up the steep banks of Nunley Stadium. Coach Turner said the 16 hills represented one hill for each week of the regular season and six hills for the playoffs and state championship game.

“The hills are symbolic,” said Turner. “We have to take it one game at a time, one hill at a time. And those hills have history. Now we have a Mr. Football who has run those hills.”

It was the last football practice before the TSSAA’s mandatory dead period. Turner said the Pioneers won’t practice again until July 12. 

He said the first order of business when practice resumes will be getting the team, as a collective unit, in better shape. The Pioneers will have one additional 7-on-7 passing scrimmage at Riverdale High School on Thursday, July 15.

The acclimation period will begin July 19-23. All players are required to practice in helmets for two days before they can wear shoulder pads.

Coach Turner is also planning to have a Commitment Camp set for Sunday, July 25. That’s where players spend the night at Nunley Stadium in a team-building event aimed at promoting chemistry.

“I’m going to have to wait and see what the COVID guidelines are at that time, but I’d like to have Commitment Camp on July 25,” said Turner.

The Pioneers open the season at home against DeKalb County, a date which will arrive quickly after the dead period is over. Turner wants players to rest up and get recharged during their time away from football, but he also would like everyone to do some weightlifting and cardiovascular work on their own to stay in reasonable shape.

“We’re just 56 days away from kickoff,” said Turner on Friday.