West Harrison football learning plays and battling heat in summer practices

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - When the West Harrison football players were standing on the sidelines during a sizzling August afternoon, they were thankful for the few wind breezes that rarely blew in from the south.

It was so hot that you could easily see the heat waves gliding along the sun-baked football field.

"It's very important to keep your body in shape because you don't want to pass out out here," senior cornerback Zach Bernard said. "It does get to about 100 degrees and we like to beat the heat with a lot of water."

West Harrison's practices on Monday and Tuesday were considered to be at "full speed." Wednesday was more of a focus on special teams, but even though the team was more relaxed, the scorching sun wouldn't relent.

"Priority number one is the kids' safety," head coach Sean Harden said. "[Our coaching staff] gives them water every 15 minutes and they're free to go get water any time they want. If one of them needs water, they know they can go get some water."

"Our trainers take care of us pretty well by giving us cold water and cold rags," senior quarterback Jacques Pucheu said. "We're just trying to stay as cool as possible."

While Harden knows that he and his coaching staff have gone to extraordinary measures to keep his players safe during the heat, he also makes sure to remind the athletes to take care of themselves at home.

"We encourage them that it doesn't end when they leave here after they leave practice," Harden said. "They have to do that at the house, too. They have to refuel that tank. They can't go home and drink one bottle of water and come back the next day [because] then their tank is half full. That's the quicker they can fall out but we stay on top of it."

The Hurricanes are just weeks away from beginning the 2014 season after falling just one win shy of a playoff appearance one year ago. Harden led West Harrison to a 4-7 overall record, including a 3-4 output during region 4-5A play in his first year as head coach.

The Canes lost five of their first six games overall, including a 33-14 defeat at the hands of the Gautier Gators -- the team that held onto the fourth and final playoff spot from region 4-5A.

Pucheu, who is also the team's kicker and punter, helped the Hurricanes to two consecutive district wins -- 26-24 over George County and 38-28 over East Central. Those victories boosted the team back into the playoff discussion after opening region play with losses to Pascagoula and Gautier.

But then the Hurricanes playoff chances ended after a 55-21 loss to the eventual 5A state champion Picayune Maroon Tide and a 42-24 loss to the Stone Tomcats.

Most high school football teams on the coast begin the regular season August 22. However, West Harrison starts exactly one week later against their Harrison County rivals, the Harrison Central Red Rebels, who shut out the Hurricanes 39-0 at West Harrison in last season's opener.