"Let's go, let's go, let's go."
Those words from coaches to players were shouted repeatedly last week Wednesday during a football team camp in Farmington, where the Cardinals hosted Rogers Heritage, Siloam Springs, Gravette and Gentry.
The lazy days of summer -- if there ever were such a concept -- no longer apply these days to young men who play high school football. Players in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts took turns lining up quickly and running plays against each other in the heat and humidity at the Farmington Sports Complex, where the artificial surface added to the rising temperatures across Northwest Arkansas on Wednesday.
Getting after it in June is the price young men pay to be ready mentally and physically when they put on the uniform and represent their school in real games that begin for many teams in late August. The purpose of team camps and 7-on-7 tournaments goes beyond just learning and executing plays. The off-season workouts are also about building camaraderie among players and coaches which is essential in all team sports.
"It's incredibly important," Gravette coach Kelby Bohannon said. "Being able to be together as a team and building unity and trust is something that we're really focused on. Within our group, we need to make sure we have each other's back and be dependable while building that from the ground up."
There are new challenges each season, including reclassification where teams can move up or down and be assigned to different conferences based on enrollment. Farmington will remain in the 5A-West Conference but the league will look different with Prairie Grove, Shiloh Christian, and Dardanelle moving in to replace Vilonia, Greenbrier and Morrilton. Prairie Grove, which opened the season with Farmington as a nonconference opponent, will now face the Cardinals in November as a 5A-West Conference member.
Farmington will open instead at Greenbrier on Aug. 26 before facing Springdale and Rogers in nonconference action.
"This is still a really good conference and we're looking forward to competing again in this league," Farmington coach J.R. Eldridge said. "It's going to be like a playoff atmosphere every week and we've got to be ready against some really good teams."
Gravette and Gentry will also face some new opponents because of reclassification. Ozark and Lincoln will join the 4A-1 Conference to replace Prairie Grove and Shiloh Christian, which bumped up to Class 5A.
"We think this is still a really good conference with Ozark and Lincoln coming in," Gentry coach Justin Bigham said. "Ozark is always at the top of their conference and Lincoln is a good football team. So, we're going to have to play well."
There's an old adage among coaches that says it's not real football until someone in full pads gets hit in the mouth. For Gentry, that starts on Aug. 26 against Westville, Okla. Gravette opens with Pea Ridge on Aug. 26, while Siloam Springs and Rogers Heritage tangle for real, again on Aug. 26.
"We're going to have our hands full right away," Bohannon said. "So, we've got to be ready to go out and compete."
Team camps and 7-on-7 events can continue until June 26, when a two-week dead period begins for high school football teams in Arkansas.