Summer heat doesn't keep players off field

During a hot, sunny morning, more than 80 sweaty Hickory Ridge football players gathered around a couple of water coolers off their practice field.

Exhausted, out-of-breath defensive ends and running backs alike drenched themselves with water to cool off while also trying to catch a break from the unrelenting sun in the shadows the Harrisburg school cast.

That is a familiar sight across Cabarrus County this summer, as football teams hold workouts, aiming to get in better shape for the upcoming season.

Ragin' Bulls head coach Marty Paxton said these workouts have become a necessary evil for teams to remain competitive.

"Everybody else is doing it," he explained. "If we don't do it, we'd get well behind."

That extra work on the field should come in handy in a cutthroat South Piedmont Conference.

Hickory Ridge's football team has been working out four times a week - from 9 a.m. to noon - this summer.

Paxton said the weather, which can be insufferably hot this time of year, played a large part in holding practices early.

"It's a lot cooler in the mornings - you get some of the dew coming off the ground that makes it a little warm, but for the most part it's much better," he said.

Hickory Ridge running back Brian Baltimore said working out in the summer sun helps players get acclimated - especially to the heat they'll face when they start wearing their pads and helmets.

"We have to get used to it because during the first half of the season it's hotter than this," said Baltimore, who ran for more than 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

The Ragin' Bulls have been working on improving their strength, speed and agility this summer.

Some of the team's drills have included running the pro and 300-yard shuttles as well as the 40-yard dash.

Baltimore, a rising senior, said that the type of conditioning the team has gone through pays off.

"All these sprints that we do help late in the season when your body starts getting tired - when the football season has taken a toll on you," he said.

But Paxton explained that he doesn't take conditioning too far in this type of weather.

"We don't go and run miles because you aren't going to run that far in football games," he said.

Paxton said he's sure to give his players enough water breaks in the summer heat.

After doing each drill, players are given time to hydrate.

The Ragin' Bulls have also used their time to get in the weight room, which acts as a much needed break from the heat.

Paxton explained that he also uses summer workouts to introduce new concepts to his players.

"That way the guys can have a good base and a good early start to the season come August," he said.

Dillon Burdette, an all-conference defensive end/outside linebacker for the Ragin' Bulls, said that summer workouts also help build team unity and discipline.

"When you're running beside your buddies about to die, you bond," he said.

Paxton said he's been impressed with how many players he's had at workouts so far. The highest number the team has had so far has been 96 players between JV and varsity.

The time on the field these past few weeks has gotten Paxton excited about the upcoming season.

He already has lofty goals for his Ragin' Bulls. Paxton said he wants his team, which finished 7-6 to tie for third place with Concord in the SPC last year behind A.L. Brown and Northwest Cabarrus, to win its first conference crown.

"The days of hoping we win a couple games or just a few more games are over," he said.

"I only expect to win championships now."