Some of the Gainesville Leopards have last season's experience of helping their team make the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

But for others, their initial week of practice is their first experience with high school football.

So as head coach James Polk and his coaching staff begin to teach, they do so knowing they need to set a foundation first.

“This is a new environment for them,” Polk said. “I like to practice everybody together, because I like for them to hear how we talked to the older kids too. I just think that helps them know what to prepare for in the future. If I can get young kids to make it through the season, that is an accomplishment, because kids like that you hear about later as a success story.”

One of the most important reasons the Leopards will keep it simple the first week is safety.

“We’ve gotta teach the technique first,” Polk said. “We don’t need to be hitting if we haven’t thoroughly instructed them on how to do these things. It’s our job to keep them safe so we overemphasize technique. And so as a coach, you can’t get caught up in the moment. We’re still gonna go from the very basic fundamentals and progress, but we’ve gotta teach them first.”

The Leopards have a few additions to the coaching staff including former Whitesboro head coach Eddie Gill, who Polk said was integral to his group on many levels.

“OG Eddie gives us that old school knowledge,” Polk said. “He’s been in this business for 38 years. So to sit here as a young coach, nine times out of 10 he’s been there and tried that before, so he’s giving us perspective. He and I have a relationship as a coach and comrade of mine. You hate to hear anything negative as a reason why a guy left the school or anything like that, so having a coach like him, that’s a win for the Leopards.”

The first few weeks are crucial for the younger coaches on the staff, according to Polk, who said he is trying some new strategies as well.

“I am going to set the tone every day in practice with tempo,” Polk said. “When we stretch, it’s on the clock. It’s tempo. When I’m barking and getting loud, it’s positive and negative. Everyone takes it. When you get noticed, that’s not a negative thing either. I’m also barking to get loud and hype up the kids. I expect my coaches do the same thing. I don’t want a bunch of rock piles standing around talking about whatever. I want them engage with the kids. We’ve got a lot of new coaches this year, so they need to learn who they are.”

Polk said he hopes the work the Leopards put in during the spring and summer would show up in the first portion of the season.

“I split the season up into quarters just like football,” Polk said. “I hope we take what we did in the spring sets the tone as far as how it’s going to go for now. We will reevaluate after our last scrimmage and then we get ready for the second quarter, which is preseason. Everything that we do up to that point, is still evaluating, but it’s evaluating and competing at the same time, because of course, you want to get off to a fast start.”

Patrick Hayslip can be reached at or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip

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