By BRETT MARSHALL
HOLCOMB — It didn't take Jerry Johnson very long to appreciate, and enjoy, the first few days of fall football drills at Holcomb High School.
Johnson, who is entering his seventh year at the helm of the Longhorns program, has enjoyed the cool, crisp temperatures of the 6:30 a.m. practices, and has appreciated the 80-degree thermometer readings at the team's 4 p.m. practices.
"It puts everybody in a good frame of mind — players and coaches," Johnson said on Friday afternoon prior to his 4 o'clock workout.
Those are side positives of the first week of practices for the Longhorns, who are coming off a 7-3 record in 2011 in which their only two regular season losses came against league powerhouses Scott City and Ulysses. They lost in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs to powerful Buhler.
Some new positives are the fact that the Longhorns have dropped back to Class 3A and will not be in the same district with Scott City. They are in a district that includes Cimarron, Southwestern Heights and Lakin.
"The schedule is a tough one through the regular season, but we have a chance to do well in the districts and hopefully have a chance to compete further into the playoffs," Johnson said of the slate for 2012.
The season opener, though, is no pushover as Class 2A power Meade (2010 state champions) will come to town for the 7:30 p.m. Aug. 31 contest.
"Chaparral was a tough opponent (in 2010 and 2011), but certainly Meade will be a big test for us," Johnson said. "We'll find out in a hurry where we are and it will let us know what we need to be improving on as the season progresses."
Another upside for Johnson is the fact that this year's team came into preseason in better physical condition due to its offseason and summer program and also has come in with an attitude that Johnson likes.
"These kids are hard workers, they've worked their tails off to get ready," Johnson said. "These kids are the most fun group we've had since I've been here. It's always fun for coaches when you don't have to coach effort. These kids want to be out here and that makes everything easier. You can focus on football and not on the other things."
With eight starters returning on both sides of the football, Johnson is eager to see where this year's team will go following the success of 2011.
"We're just that much further along than where we've been in the past," Johnson said. "The kids know what to do and we're not starting from scratch. Coach (John) Becker has done a great job with our middle school program and we've got a good foundation now for our 7 to 12 grade program."
He also is encouraged by the fact that he's got 42 players out for the high school, an increase from last year's 34.
"We've got enough kids now that we can play a junior varsity schedule and not move too many kids up or down to play," Johnson said. "And we've got a good group of freshmen so we hope to schedule a few games for just freshmen to play."
The first day of full contact with pads was Thursday and Johnson said the team will continue to work toward that Aug. 31 opening date.
"It's a long season to get to the goals that you want, but we're going to enjoy this and see where we go," Johnson said. "There's an excitement and an optimism around here and I think the kids have worked to create that."
Notes: The football team and Lady Longhorns volleyball team will be conducting their final scrimmages, which are open to the public, on Friday. The volleyball team will scrimmage at 5 p.m. at the HHS gym, while the football scrimmage will begin at 7 p.m. Persons attending are encouraged to bring Gatorade drinks to donate as those will be utilized by the teams throughout the 2012 season.
Holcomb Longhorns 2012 Schedule
(Home Games in CAPS)
Aug. 31--MEADE, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 7--HUGOTON, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 14--at Scott City, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 21--GOODLAND, 7:30 p.m.; Sept. 28--at Colby, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 5--at Ulysses, 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 12--at Southwestern Heights*, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19--LAKIN*, 7 p.m.; Oct. 25 (Thur.)--CIMARRON*, 7 p.m.
* — Denotes Class 3A district game.