As the defending Class 4A Division I state champion La Vega Pirates worked through their second hour of practice on Monday morning, a new tool took flight over the Pirates’ offensive 11-man drill.

La Vega is using a drone camera for the first time in preseason practice. It’s a way to get a little more data from practice and show things to the players in a new way.

“We saw some other people use technology like that for film stuff, so we just felt like it would be beneficial for us to use it too,” Pirates coach Don Hyde said. “You can get close angles from a tight shot. It’s kind of like (the Madden NFL video game), you get the same perspective.”

The drone brought a new wrinkle to practice. But most of what makes up the first day of preseason workouts remained the same inside La Vega’s Willie Williams Stadium.

“That’s the great thing about being at La Vega High School,” Hyde said. “Our expectations are the same every year. We don’t set a goal to win a district championship, we expect to win a district championship. The goal is to win a state championship every year.”

The Pirates joined all football programs in 4A and below in starting practice on Monday. They’ll have a little more than three weeks of preseason drills before games kick off on the front end of Labor Day weekend.

Schools in 5A and 6A that held spring practice, including Midway, Waco High and University, will start preseason workouts on Aug. 12.

Just a few miles from La Vega High School, the Connally Cadets started practice on Monday morning too. The Cadets, who went 8-4 and made it to the second round of the 4A Division II playoffs last season, start preseason with high expectations of their own.

Connally returns Central Texas’ leading rusher in Jay’Veon Sunday, who ran for 2,329 yards and 36 touchdowns. Sunday, a Washington commit, heads a squadron of four Cadets who have already pledged to FBS college football programs.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of football games and have had a lot of practices,” Connally coach Shane Anderson said. “So they know what a varsity football practice is supposed to look like. There’s no substitute for experience.”

Even so, the Cadets coach knows his program can’t rest on that experience.

“Our word of the week is learn,” Anderson said. “From a player’s standpoint, we want to learn as much about our position and our position coach as we can. From a coaching standpoint, we want to learn as much about our players as we can.”

Connally’s district foe Lorena claimed the 8-4A Division II championship this season.

The Leopards, who went 11-2 and reached the third round of the playoffs, began practice Monday afternoon.

Lorena coach Ray Biles said he has five offensive and five defensive starters back, so both sides of the ball will be counting on some new faces.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids up, kids that played on Thursday night,” Biles said. “How quickly some of these younger kids adapt and adjust to what’s about to happen, that’s going to be a big part of our season.”

Lorena returns quarterback Bradley Lina, who was the Super Centex first-team quarterback in 2018 after passing for 2,846 yards and 29 touchdowns.

The Leopards’ attack on both sides of the ball was built on precision and that’s what they were working toward on Monday.

“I know it’s going to be sloppy, there are going to be things that happen that aren’t good,” Biles said. “It’s the first day of practice, I got that. But, effort, I can’t coach that. If the effort’s not there, then we’re in trouble. The main thing is I go group to group to group. I just want to see kids flying around the field.”

Like Lorena, Mart hit the field Monday afternoon for its first football workout of the summer.

The Panthers have won back-to-back 2A state titles, the sixth and seventh in school history. But, just like everybody else, the start of the preseason means getting everyone back up to speed.

“You see who played Fortnite all summer and who actually got to the weight room and did a little running,” Mart coach Kevin Hoffman said. “That’s easy to see. We kind of call it Fortnite detox, this first week. I would say probably half our guys came in in pretty decent shape. Some of these young kids, you try to tell them what it’s going to be like.”

Most of the players that have been around for a while seemed to take the opening practice in their stride.

La Vega senior linebacker Demarrquese Hayes, a Kansas State commit, smiled and gave media members hugs during a break in drills. He didn’t need a lot of words to describe his feelings about a new season.

“First day, baby!” Hayes said. “Excited. Ready.”

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