GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - On the Southern Miss practice field Friday, temperatures hovered near the 100 degree mark. And it felt a lot warmer than that. Along the coast, high school teams practiced in similar sweltering conditions.
A football streaks past the scorching sun as it bakes practice fields across south Mississippi. Jamie Edwards is covering the receiver who's trying to catch the pass. "Seventeen years down here, you get kind of use to it. So it's not that bad," he said about the heat.
The dog days of August are typically when the sidelines look like a sweaty sauna. But on this opening week of practice, excessive heat warnings have sounded an alarm. There's a real concern the heat and humidity can sap the strength from even the most physically fit high school football players - especially at practice fields without shade. So, coaches like Mike Justice must be mindful that pushing too hard could be a big mistake. "We don't know exactly what you're temperature is," he tells his players, "we can't keep up with everybody. So, if you get how, need something to drink, go get it."
Justice gives his players the latitude to take water breaks whenever they need to cool off. "You get water when you want it. If we're doing a drill, just go over there and get some," said Justice.
The team also takes mandatory breaks, so heat exhaustion doesn't become an issue.
Travon Travis says the heat is just part of the game. "That's just how it is, you've got to keep fighting," the senior wide receiver says. "If you stop, that means somebody else out there is getting better than you. So we're going to keep fighting and get better than everybody else."
Two weeks from now, this training in the oppressive heat will be put to the test for every football team in Mississippi. Kickoff of the 2011 high school football season is August 19th.