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Gearing for another season of Friday night lights
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Is there really a worse time of year for a sports fan than the end of July?

If there is, I don't know what it would be; there's very little going on in the latter third of July. Yes, there is the Major League Baseball All-Star game, and yes you have the Open Championship across the pond, but after that...?

All the end of July is good for is getting us closer to August. Why? Oh, I think you already know - college football begins in less than a week.

On the local level, Friday marks the first day high school football teams are allowed to schedule practices. It's an exciting time in Newton County, as well as the surrounding areas.

The Alcovy Tigers enter their third season after a 2-8 overall record last year. However, after moving to a new region (Class 4-AAAA) with new challenges, a playoff appearance is a real possibility.

Meanwhile, the Newton Rams are still trying to regroup after their worst season in a decade (1-9). Things can only get better for second-year coach Nick Collins and company. (Remember, Eastside coach Rick Hurst won five games in his second year after going winless in his inaugural season.)

Speaking of Eastside, that's where the buzz is. The Eagles have won a combined 12 games over the past two seasons, including seven last year. They enjoyed their first season above .500 since 2001. Hungry isn't the word to describe them; they're starving, especially after narrowly missing the postseason last year, losing by a touchdown in their final game of the season.

In fact, all of Eastside's losses were by a mere seven points. This was a 7-3 team just a few plays from being a perfect 10-0. With the talent they have returning, Friday could be the beginning of a special journey for the Eagles.

Looking just outside the county, Social Circle is aiming for its eighth consecutive postseason appearance, albeit in a much improved Region 8-A. Salem won nine games last season following their run to the Georgia Dome in 2006, while Heritage won just three games in 2007. Rockdale County finds itself in a similar situation as Newton, with a second-year coach (Michael Etheridge) fresh off a nine-loss season.

Perhaps this is just a cruel tease, as we are still roughly five weeks away from kickoff.

But it's those grueling summer practices where these young boys become young men, where these collections of individuals become teams - a family. It's on the practice field where football teaches its life lessons.

For the freshmen, they are days away from embarking on the first of many journeys, yet are in for a rude surprise after they see what this high school football thing is all about. After all, it's not recreation or middle school ball anymore.

Regarding the seniors, most of them are preparing for the last football season of their lives. And for those who have been playing since they were 5 years old, this is a big deal.

Strap on your helmets - are you ready for some football?