Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A huge, orange ball of fire slowly creeps over the fencebordering the east side of King Field. It is 7 a.m. Tuesday morningand the summer sun already is broiling a large group of BrookhavenHigh School football players as they labor through a series ofagility and conditioning drills.

The intense, energy-draining workout began at 6 a.m. in the OleBrook weightlifting room. A rooster crowed in the neighborhood,welcoming the first rays of daylight. Barbells clanked and playersgasped for more oxygen, pressing the heavy weights in a series ofrepetitions. Teammates shouted encouragement, awaiting theirturn.

Four days a week, Monday through Thursday, Ole Brook playersreligiously report for the 90-minute workouts. Head football coachTucker Peavey says the turnout averages 55-60 players.

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After pumping iron, the Panthers step outside. They are greetedby more heat and humidity. Awaiting them are a series of obstaclecourses, plus jump rope stations and dot drills. The finalchallenge tests the lungs and legs of each player. A full-throttlecharge up the stadium steps, all the way to the metal railing atthe top of the stands and back down again and again and again.

Defensive coordinator Rod Henderson bellows encouragement to theweary players. “You should be refreshed. You just got back fromvacation.”

Henderson points out another player. “Look, he’s letting up onthose last four or five steps. You look in slow motion running outthere. If you cheat us now, you’ll cheat us on Friday nights,too.”

Peavey calls the workout to a halt at 7:30 and the playershuddle around him. “You had a good workout today.”

Players, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, are saturated withsweat from the tops of their heads to the soles of their feet.Another session, for the late risers, will start at 8 a.m. and lastuntil 9:30.

In most high schools across Mississippi, summer workouts are thenorm but they vary in participation and intensity. Football playerswork the hardest.

Senior linebacker Bart Sias, wiped sweat from his cheeks assaline droplets fell off his chin. “Now I’ve got to go to work,”said Sias. He is employed by the city of Brookhaven Parks andRecreation Department.

“Workouts are tough but they get you ready for the season,” saidSias.

According to Mississippi High School Activities Associationrules, there is not a football in sight. Well-organizedconditioning workouts are permitted. Preseason practice officiallybegins July 31.

Looking up at the concrete stands where he had been running andclimbing steps at top speed, senior right guard Nick Noworyta,managed a smile. “It (workouts) tests your limits; sees how far youcan go.”

What are the benefits of this physical torture?

“It makes me a better football player,” answered Noworyta. “Youhave to have good feet. (Drills) help me change directionsbetter.”

Senior free safety R.J. Jenkins was a starter on Ole Brook’s2004 Class 4A state championship squad. He knows what kind ofsacrifice is required to be a champion.

“I think we have the best coaching staff in the state,” saidJenkins. “These summer workouts put us a step ahead of ouropponents.”

Jenkins recognizes the long-range benefits of weightlifting andagility drills. Coaches preach that football games are won in theoffseason.

“We are working toward Friday nights,” said Jenkins. “You comeout here early and (workout) gets your day off to a good start. Itmakes you feel good about yourself.”

Jenkins wears a sweat-soaked black T-shirt with “Iron Panther”printed in large letters on the front. “Whatever It Takes” isprinted on the back.

“That’s our motto,” said Jenkins. “We’ll do whatever it takes towin on Friday nights.”