High school football players know the road to the regular season begins with grueling two-week double sessions. Getting through those practices is easier if the weather cooperates.

“We were very fortunate to have pretty nice weather,” said Audrey McKenzie, Portland High’s athletic trainer.

Athletic trainers were on alert this week as the weather turned stifling hot. A heat wave arrived as football teams were getting ready for today’s openers.

Deering and Portland moved their practices back later in the day to lessen the effect of the heat. On Tuesday, Portland practiced at 6:30 p.m. The good thing is teams are now having one practice a day for the rest of the season.

When the temperature and the humidity climb, athletic trainers monitor practices for all sports. Football players get close scrutiny because of the equipment they wear. When the temperature soars into the 90s, players shed equipment. Shorts are worn instead of the regular football pants and pads. Water breaks are more frequent.

“We keep the players well hydrated,” said Deering trainer Greg Tosi. “We make sure the players don’t overdo it. Whenever (athletes need) water, they should be able to get it. We have buckets with ice packs so the players can cool themselves.”

Football players and field hockey goalies with their pads are the most closely watched, said McKenzie. She also noted that soccer players typically go long stretches without breaks, so adjustments also have to be made there.

During soccer and field hockey games, she said, coaches and game officials were on the same page regarding water breaks.

Other adjustments made at Deering and Portland included keeping teams off their turf fields during the day.

“The turf adds 10 degrees,” said Tosi.

When Portland did practice at Fitzpatrick Stadium, there was a misting tent to cool players.

“There’s no shade at Fitzy,” said McKenzie.

 

WITH NO clear-cut favorite in Western Class A, tonight’s openers could begin the weeding-out process. There are some attractive openers on the schedule.

Portland and Deering square off at 7 p.m. at Fitzpatrick. Both teams report having good preseasons with the exception of early injuries.

The Rams have been depleted at running back with injuries to Trey Thomes and Nick DiBiase. Thomes broke a bone in his arm in the opening scrimmage against Marshwood. The Rams hope to get him back by midseason. DiBiase has a high ankle sprain.

Portland running back Will Walsh has a pulled hamstring.

Deering’s offensive strength looks to be the passing game with quarterback Jamie Ross throwing to wide receivers John Hardy and Renaldo Lowry.

Portland features a strong running game with tailback Imadhi Zagon.

Defending Class A state champion Windham travels to South Portland. The Eagles graduated their top offensive stars in quarterback Jackson Taylor and tailback Jack Mallis, the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner. The Eagles, though, return a talented line, and players ready to step in to keep them at the top.

Another interesting game has Scarborough at Massabesic. Both teams look to be improved. The Red Storm have a new head coach: former Portland assistant Lance Johnson.

In Class B, Falmouth at York headlines the card, while in Class C Old Orchard Beach at Yarmouth is a rematch of last year’s playoff game.

Cheverus, rated one of the top teams in Class A, opens at home at 1 p.m. today. Like the Stags, Thornton Academy also moved its game with Kennebunk from Saturday to 1 p.m. today at Hill Stadium because of the threat of Hurricane Earl.

Massabesic Coach John Morin, beginning his 14th season, sums up the league’s expected parity this way: “A lot of the top teams lost several key players. How soon some of those new players can step up and fill those leadership roles will determine a team’s success.”

With the bulk of his team underclassmen, Morin hopes that will happen with the Mustangs.

“Fortunately our underclassmen are talented and we have some decent skill kids,” he said.

 

PORTLAND COACH Mike Bailey, starting his 25th season, has a who’s-who for a coaching staff. It includes back-to-back Fizpatrick Trophy winners in Mike Rutherford and Shaun Hawkins; a former athletic director at five local schools in Gary Groves; and a former longtime varsity basketball and baseball coach in Tony DiBiase.

Rutherford is the Bulldogs’ freshmen coach, assisting the varsity. He served as offensive coordinator in the early 1990s.

Hawkins is coaching for the first time, helping Rutherford with the freshmen while assisting with the varsity.

Groves has been with the team off and on for eight years. He coaches the defensive backs.

DiBiase returns to the Portland staff after serving as Bailey’s first offensive coordinator from 1986-88. DiBiase stepped down as South Portland baseball coach this spring after leaving as the Red Riots’ basketball coach three years ago.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

[email protected]