By D. Mark Mitchell

sports columnist

Photos by Robert Noles The Opelika Bulldogs officially began practicing for their upcoming season last Monday. Above, Josh Johnson carries the ball down the field. Right, Jake Bentley throws a pass to a teammate while head coach Brian Blackmon looks on.

Photos by Robert Noles
The Opelika Bulldogs officially began practicing for their upcoming season last Monday. Above, Josh Johnson carries the ball down the field. Below, Jake Bentley throws a pass to a teammate while head coach Brian Blackmon looks on.


Opelika High “officially” started fall football practice last Monday.
Coach Brian Blackmon worked the young men out Monday morning.
The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has made several changes to practice rules in a effort to keep all players safe and injury free.
The new regulations were adopted and approved by the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS), which is the governing body of high school athletics in the United States.
The new guidelines were approved by the AHSAA Central Board of Control, on the recommendation of the AHSAA Medical Advisory Committee and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association.
The guidelines give specific limits concerning full speed contact beginning with week one of the preseason right up to the first game and then sets forth limits after the season begins.
The AHSAA protocol limits full-speed contact drills to 90 minutes per player during week one. Teams can only practice in shorts and helmets the first two days, shoulder pads and helmets on day three for up to 90 minutes per practice time, and in shoulder pads and helmets on day four for no more than 120 minutes.
The fifth day of practice, teams are allowed one full-speed contact practice, in full gear, not to exceed 90 minutes in length.
A school is not allowed back-to back two-a-day practices.
Week two teams are allowed full-speed contact practice not to exceed 120 minutes for the week.
Week three teams are allowed alternating days of full-speed-contact  not to exceed 120 minutes.
From week four until the end of the season, a team is allowed a total of 90 minutes of full speed contact per week.
Coach Blackmon agrees with the new rules: “We never have two practices in a day. The amount of time allowed for full speed contact is enough, in fact the new guidelines will not effect the way we practice. I have never practiced full speed contact exceeding the time allowed.
The number of players (85) on our team is not enough to go full speed without getting someone hurt.” Blackmon made these comments on my radio show, “On The Mark,” earlier this week.
Opelika has a full-time trainer at practice everyday, thanks to the Orthopaedic Clinic. The Clinic pays for a trainer year-round to assist the OHS Athletic Department.
The trainer decides when players are hurt, too hot, and or if they need medical attention. Having a full-time trainer on staff is a huge asset to the Athletic Department. All of the coaches follow the recommendations of the trainer.
Opelika High and Middle Schools take precautionary measures to insure the players are hydrated and have numerous “heat” breaks.
This is a change from past years. Former head of the AHSAA, Dan Washburn, agrees with the change. “When I coached, we did not have these safety measures in place. The studies and medical advice is more advanced and is needed,” said Washburn during the interview with Coach Blackmon at the “On the Mark” program.
I applaud the AHSAA for taking a this stance on safety. One injury or heat-related illness is one too many.
We are blessed and fortunate to have the Orthopaedic Clinic provide a full-time trainer and Dr. Jim Whatley on the sideline of each game. Dr. Trent Wilson fills in for Dr. Whatley if Whatley cannot attend a game.
The Orthopaedic Clinic, under the leadership of Terry Rosenthal, should be commended for their support of Opelika athletics.
The annual Corporate SponsorAppreciation Dinner will be Thursday August 13 at 6:30 in the Bulldog Cafe inside OHS. Invitations were mailed this week to Corporate Sponsors. If you are a Sponsor, plan on attending the dinner which will be catered by Kitchen 3810.
Current season ticket holders can purchase season tickets Monday, August 10-14 in the lobby of the Performing Arts Center at OHS from 3:45-6 p.m.
Swap day for season tickets will be Monday, August 17, from 3:45-5:30.
New season tickets can be purchased Tuesday August 18 from 3:45-5:30.
All sales will be in the lobby of the OPAC.
Opelika High Athletic Department is in the process of unveiling the new Athletic website. The new site will replace
The site is almost complete. You can find scores, schedules, game information, directions to opposing teams’ stadiums and much more information by going to
D.Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State director and vice president of the  A-O Sports Council.