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Heat on the minds of Florida high school coaches

High school football practice is not the only thing heating up in Florida this month.

With temperatures soaring into the mid-90s, and the heat index (temperature factoring relative humidity) topping 110, prep football coaches across the Sunshine State are taking all the right precautions with their players and staff.

Their concerns are even more heightened this year in light of the recent death of University of Florida player Eraste Autin, who collapsed after a voluntary workout and died six days later.

Autin is one of four football players across the nation who have died from heatstroke this summer. Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Korey Stringer died less than a week after Autin.

The same week that Stringer fell, Clinton Central High School (Michigantown, Ind.) lineman Travis Stowers apparently died from complications from heatstroke. Northwestern University safety Rashidi Wheeler also died this summer during drills.

In the sauna-like conditions of Florida, Titusville High football coach Dan Diesel knows all too well the importance of staying hydrated in the summer heat. A 1976 THS graduate and former Tennessee Tech offensive lineman, he became severely dehydrated once during a practice session and had to be rushed to a hospital.

It was an experience Diesel still remembers with great trepidation.

"We were always on Astro turf, which was hotter than grass," said Diesel, who is entering his 11th year as head coach of the Terriers. "And, really, water was allowed. But, really pretty limited. Anyway, I was taken to the hospital and rehydrated and the whole bit.

"I can tell you that, after you are allowed to get to that point with the heat and dehydration, it takes some time to get back to full speed."

Diesel said his staff took special note of the deaths of Autin and Stringer, both of whom died after going through preseason workout sessions. Both had been practicing in extremely hot and humid conditions -- a fact that hasn't escaped the Terriers' coaching staff since prep schools across Florida began practice on Monday, Aug. 6.

"I don't think it is by accident that you hear so much about these heatstroke events in the first two or three days of football training camps as the body has just not gotten itself acclimated to the heat, yet," Diesel said.

"I think the first three days in shorts (during two-a-days for us) is a real plus in easing the players into the heat, too, and before putting pads on, which is not allowed by the FHSAA (Florida High School Activities Association) until Day 4 of practice. So, that helps, too. I don't think the NFL has any rules (governing practice sessions), as far as being in shorts before they go full (pads)."

To battle the 90-degree-plus heat, Diesel said THS institutes regular water breaks throughout two-a-days and the regular season.

"We have our managers go to the drills with water bottles to not only get the players water, but to squirt the water on their faces and necks to cool them. So, we feel we do all we can," he said.

At cross-town Astronaut High School, coach Randy Hallock said his coaching staff is very cautious with practicing in the heat. Water is ready at all times.

"We're always very cautious," Hallock said. "We have water every time the kids need it. We're not going to change anything. We (coaches) are all at our different stations, so we kind of know what to watch for. We know if they get woozy or whatever, to get them out of there."

The FHSAA also has mandatory water breaks in every game, a rule that significantly reduces the chance of heat exhaustion. Although most Florida high schools play games at 7:30 p.m., officials are not taking any chances.

"The past seven or eight years, (water breaks) really have been an emphasis, not just by the FHSAA, but by the coaches themselves," AHS athletic director Tim Sparkman said. "Coaches don't want to run their kids in the ground. The old days of "practice until you puke" are over."

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