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Football excitement in the air

When practice officially begins Monday, it will be hot, there will be mundane drills, there will be renewed demands of school and work. But everyone can hardly wait.

If they are lucky, really lucky, the temperature might hold steady at just around 95 degrees _ not including the weight of the beating sun and the heat index.

And if they are lucky, everybody will be on time, pay attention, do exactly as the coaches ask, and there won't be any extra laps to take or any extra pushups to do.

And if they are lucky, the first three days will fly by quickly so they can get past the mundane drills and tasks and move on to the important stuff _ helmets and hitting.

Yes, it's that time of year again. The high school football season officially begins Monday with the first sanctioned practice.

And according to the coaches and players in Citrus County, despite the extremely hot weather and the renewed demands of attending school and work, it's not a moment too soon.

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"I'm really excited to have the season going again," Citrus junior tailback Clayton Swearingen said."

For Citrus head coach Larry Bishop, Monday will be dedicated to getting the younger players in stride.

"The first day is really more of an orientation with the younger kids and those that have never played," Bishop said. "We get them their equipment, let them know what we expect of them and what they can expect from us. For those that have been there, we work on the fundamentals, the basics, trying to get them acclimated to the weather, get them used to wearing the helmet and mouthpiece, just those kinds of things."

Bishop's biggest concern over the next three weeks is getting a large number of inexperienced players ready to play. Many of the athletes donning the gold and black this season are new.

"We're real excited," he said. "The whole coaching staff is and the kids seem to be too. Anticipation is really high."

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Across town, Lecanto head coach Dick Slack is hoping to use the first few days to set up the entire season.

"In the coaches meetings I've been telling the coaches we're going to set the tempo and tone for the whole season," Slack said. "We want to be real upbeat. The attitude you set is the attitude your team is going to take."

Lecanto's revamped offense and defense have the Panthers energized like never before heading into the season.

"We want to pick up where we left off in the spring," Slack said. "We'll review things we accomplished in the spring and try to build on that. We were very happy with it (the jamboree) and we think we got a lot of ground covered. We put in a new offense and defense and I think the kids performed."

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The excitement of a new season has everyone excited, but make no mistake about it: The first day of football practice is no piece of cake.

"It's one of the roughest days of the year," Citrus linebacker Wes Davis said. "It's basically what you think about all day in school because there is nothing else to do the first day. And those first three days you're not in pads so it gets repetitive and boring. You just think about all the running you're doing."

And then there's the subject of the young players.

"A lot of the (young) players aren't used to the heat and heat exhaustion and some will be hurting," Swearingen said. "And there's a lot of confusion for the younger kids because they don't know what they are doing."

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While few expect Crystal River to fall from its perch as the county's pre-eminent program, there are some major concerns following coach Earl Bramlett's third straight 10-win season. Gone are Leroy Hill and Ricky Posselt _ one of the best rushing duos in county history _ and four of the five offensive linemen who helped them combine for nearly 3,000 yards last season.

"We don't have any depth," Bramlett said. "We don't know who our backup running backs are going to be yet and we're not sure who our backups and a lot of our starters on the offensive line are going to be either. We lost everybody on the line."

Bramlett does, however, have some key returning personnel who should make the transition a little easier. Senior tackle Jimmy Wilson, a Times All-North Suncoast first-team selection last year, returns to anchor the young line, while senior Cody Hampton and junior Nate Madison have been penciled in as the starters at halfback and fullback respectively.

"I think our first two can play, but they will have to play on both sides of the ball on every down," Bramlett said. "Last year we had Nate, Cody and Leonard (Johnson Jr.) as backups, which gave the others a chance to rest. We're trying to find someone to do that for us this year, but nobody has stepped up yet. We'll find someone, but they'll probably be young."

Another who will see significantly more time this fall is sophomore quarterback Clayton Trenary, who stepped into the starting role toward the end of last season. This, however, does not point toward a change in the Pirates' run-first philosophy, nor does the lack of depth mean the Crystal River players can expect much of a break when preseason drills start on Monday afternoon.

"We are going to try to do both. We'll try to be balanced, but we feel that if you can't run, you can't win. You may win some, but you're not going to win consistently," Bramlett said.

"We tried to save people once, but we ended up having one of the worst years we've had here. We won't do anything different than we've done the last three years. We'll practice just as hard. That's what the players expect, and if we did it any other way, they would probably be disappointed."

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