By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — As the clock struck midnight, and Friday turned to Saturday, Florida’s high school football teams were finally allowed to fully hit each other during practice.
While most high school kids were out celebrating one of the final Friday nights of summer — or sleeping — Charlotte High School’s football team wasted no time, taking to the practice field at 12:01 a.m.
“I think this is something they’ll remember forever,” head coach Binky Waldrop said. “It’s a cool thing to do. Very seldom is football practice fun. You’re out there at 2:30 in the heat, and the coaches are leaning on you. Tonight, we’ll be yelling, but they won’t hear much of it because the music is loud. Tonight is all about them.”
It was the first time the Tarpons were under the lights at their own school since a win over Port Charlotte on Nov. 20, 2015 in the regional semifinals.
“It’s very exciting,” quarterback D’Andre Hicks said. “It’s my senior year. We have a lot of guys coming back, so this is a big year ahead of us.”
Hicks isn’t a night owl. If he wasn’t at practice Friday night/Saturday morning, he would’ve been at home sleeping, and likely dreaming about touchdown passes and out-running defensive linemen.
“I’m never up this late. It’s crazy,” Hicks said. “(I’m usually in bed by) eight or nine. I was excited for today. I’ve been waiting for it all summer.”
Waldrop began the midnight madness tradition three years ago, as the Tarpons made a whole day out of it. They watched a few motivational videos earlier in the day, and had a big cookout with burgers and hot dogs in the early evening.
“The kids loved it, so we just kept doing it,” Waldrop said. “It’s a cool practice. It generates excitement.”
Plenty of fans, parents and students showed up to the practice to get a glimpse of their team.
New FHSAA rules prohibited fully uniformed practices over the first week of drills, thus they couldn’t hit each other below the waist or tackle each other to the ground. With Saturday as the first day of live contact, teams can only go full pads three days a week, but can’t do it on two consecutive days.