Neither time truly felt like high school football.
Sure, the Lee County Yellow Jackets had their first official practice of the year under the lights, but it came in the wee hours of the morning.
And while Southern Lee got its season under way in a more traditional fashion, opening its August practice slate under a glaring sun in the middle of the day, it’s not like the air was crisp and the leaves were turning around Cavalier Stadium in a setting befitting an October Friday night.
Then again, the first day of practice never really feels likes it’s the beginning to a new football season. There’s too much heat and never enough hitting.
But that’s good. Because if there’s anything the two football programs in Lee County need right now, it’s a year that resembles nothing like the 2008 seasons for the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers.
And with that in mind, the unorthodox way the two squads opened practice may be just what the doctor symbolically ordered — a fresh start.
That’s what we have in Burton Cates at Lee County and Eric Puryear at Southern Lee.
The two men couldn’t be any more different — at least off the field. One is a legend in North Carolina high school football, bringing with him to the Yellow Jackets a resume that precedes itself, one so fine that there’s no point in even printing it. There are 236 wins on there, 25 years of experience, one state championship and nine conference titles.
The other is a young up-and-comer who preaches toughness and hard work like a grizzled old timer, spouting the mantras that are the difference between wins and losses at a level few high school players ever achieve. He has succeeded and improved every program he has been a part of and shows no willingness to accept anything different out of the Cavaliers.
It’s hard to watch men we’ve grown to know resign or lose their jobs, and sadly, harder still to look past the winning percentage and consider the families affected by changes schools sometimes make in their programs. We just want winners. We all want to win.
But decisions have been made, and it’s time for fans, too, to begin anew. Excitement is easy to come by this time of year, but with two programs that are hopefully on the rebound, there will be nights, maybe more than not starting out, when the scoreboard isn’t slanted in the home team’s favor. Keeping in mind that winning is a process will benefit everyone involved, from players to parents to coaches to fans.
Unfortunately, fond memories of Football 2008 in Lee County aren’t exactly in overwhelming supply. But, given the opportunity, that can change now.
And so like the lights illuminating the Yellow Jackets on their first dark morning with their new coach, or the sun brightening the orange and blue of the Cavaliers, all of Lee County can shine this season, no matter what happens between those white lines once the nights do cool and the leaves fall.
If we let it.