Midnight Madness kicks off contact practices at Adairsville

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Aug. 1 is traditionally the first day of padded practice across the state for high school football teams.

The Adairsville Tigers have added to the tradition over the last six years by holding "Midnight Madness," and getting the first day of hitting, blocking and tackling underway at the stroke of midnight.

The tradition began six years ago, with a one-year hiatus last season, but returned early Wednesday morning at Tiger Stadium under the lights as the Tigers cracked pads for the first time since spring ball.

"At this point, two of the classes had been through Midnight Madness before, but the rising freshmen and sophomores hadn't been through it before. So there was a renewed excitement about it and some nervousness about it," Adairsville head coach Eric Bishop said. "We came out first thing and went into a little individual and passing period and we were kind of overthrowing the balls, and you could tell the adrenaline of being back under the lights and being in the stadium had kind of put a renewed excitement on practice."

Last year, school began on Aug. 1 and the Tigers couldn't continue the Midnight Madness tradition. However, with the start of school a week away, Adairsville was able to renew the tradition Wednesday.

There was a point Tuesday when it appeared weather might cause the practice to be cancelled, but the skies cleared up and a strong contingent of fans made it out to watch the practice.

Midnight Madness is not all that unique to Adairsville, as more and more teams around Georgia have adopted the early-morning start to tackling season. But the Tigers are the only Bartow team to begin at midnight and it's a tradition the coaches and players have taken a liking to after Bishop instituted it during his first year as head coach.

Of course, playing under the lights in the stadium in front of a few spectators adds to the pomp and circumstance, but the real significance of the day is the players finally get to hit and tackle after a summer full of individual drills, touch-and-tag 7-on-7s and offensive and defensive installs.

"We just really wanted to focus on the live element of the game that you can't focus on during the summer. In summer, it's touch and tags and there's not a lot of blocking, not a lot of tackling," Bishop said of the Midnight Madness practice. "We kind of intentionally scaled back on the [individual drill] time and the installs and went with what we had in at this point offensively and defensively."

For some players, the anticipation of finally being able to hit someone is a little greater than for others. One of those players is hard-hitting middle linebacker and state-placer wrestler Nic Jackson, who showed why he'll rack up the tackles as a senior. Fellow senior and two-way standout Mason Boswell always raises his game when the lights are on, and Bishop was impressed by senior slotback and safety Chris Rodriguez on the first day of padded practice.

A couple of receivers also began showing their playmaking ability once things went live, including junior receiver Zach Ogle, who could play a major part in replacing the Tigers' top four pass-catching options from 2017 — Cody Henderson, Ethan Belcher, Bryce Burgess and Travon Branch.

Bishop also pointed out junior quarterback and cornerback Derrick Simmons, and his emergence as a player to watch has been a common theme all spring and summer, as has the overall work ethic and focus of the team during the offseason.

"Very, very excited. We were kind of pleasantly surprised at some of the things we saw in the spring and we've had a great summer in terms of weightlifting, and running, and speed and agility, and quickness and all that kind of stuff," Bishop said. "We really didn't know what to expect, especially from a defensive standpoint, because you can mimic tackling and you can do all the tackling drills, but until it's live, you really don't know how your players are going to react. But we looked very good for a first padded practice on defense, looked very strong up the middle. Defensive line, inside linebacker and our two-high safeties are really looking good there. Outside linebackers and corner[backs] is really where we have to focus a lot of our attention on right now.

"A lot of kids catch your eye at different times. And, this early in the season, two plays later, make a mental mistake in alignment or assignment and you have to coach them. But that's our job and that's a lot of what you do this time of year."