Bishop promptly responded, “You’ll get your chance here soon.”
Understanding his players’ eagerness to dawn the pads and lay the lumber, Bishop didn’t waste any time as he and the Tigers began full-contact practice at Tiger Stadium at the stroke of midnight Friday, the earliest permitted date for practice in pads by the GHSA.
“They all look forward to it, wanting to know if we were going to do it this year,” Bishop said of the so-called “Midnight Madness.” “We’re excited about it, and I think it’s good. It’s a great tempo-setter and gets the mindset right. It makes for a long day, but it’s a lot of fun for the kids. I think they are [focused].
“They’re definitely enthusiastic about being one of the first teams in the state to practice in full pads.”
The 2014 season is Bishop’s second as Adairsville’s head coach and also is the second year the team has practiced at midnight to open the season.
“The idea comes from a couple of schools, mainly in south Georgia, that started it a couple of years ago. Last year, we did a little research and I think there were six other schools in the state that did it,” Bishop said. “It was still something that we wanted to do and kind of make it a new tradition here. We feel like Adairsville is a tradition-rich football program, and in talking about it last year with the coaching staff and with the players, we thought that it would be a way for them to make their mark on their program’s traditions.”
The tradition has already become popular with the players.
“It starts the season off with the first practice. It lets us get physical and gets the season really popping off,” senior safety and wide receiver DeAndre Applin said. “It’s the first practice so you want to start things off right and get ready for the games.”
Of course, Aug. 1 is also the first time the players are able to hit and tackle since spring ball and, for some, since the 2013 season ended in November.
“Well, I got this new helmet, you see, and it’s just nice to try it out finally,” junior linebacker Dallas Cannon said. “I like hitting people. It hurts, but it’s just an adrenaline rush. It’s why I’m out here. You’ve been waiting a full year for this and I’m just happy it’s here. I’ve been missing [hitting] a lot.”
The players also like playing under the lights, something Adairsville will not be able to do again until its first game on Aug. 22 at home against Ridgeland.
“Practicing under the lights is a big thing, too,” Bishop said. “You don’t practice under the lights very often and you play under them almost every Friday, so I think that probably has as much impact on your psyche as anything, walking out and seeing those lights.”
“I just like it. It reminds me of Friday nights,” junior running back and linebacker Sidnee Johnson said of practicing under the lights. “I’ve been going through every play, just imagining it’s a real game. I’m visualizing what I’m going to do this year — score, amaze the fans.”
The practice also was the team’s second in the span of six hours, something Bishop believes will develop mental toughness.
“A day like this is a test of attrition and mental toughness. A lot of them have been up for 12, 14 hours now, and finding their focus in this type of setting and this type of practice, it takes some work,” Bishop said. “We didn’t look our best at times, but being our first practice in pads, I thought it went well.”
Bishop was particularly pleased with the defensive side of the ball during the practice.
“The one pleasant surprise was defensively. You can only see and get so much information and so much feedback when you’re in a helmet-only situation, but I think our defense really outperformed our expectations for a first padded practice,” Bishop said. “That’s kind of a testament to our defensive coaches and what they have installed and the work that they put in in the preseason. The kids will only get better from here, no doubt.”