ENNIS, Texas — A lone tree towered over incoming freshman football players at Ennis High School on Monday afternoon as they finished the first practice for fall camp.
The tree was the only thing providing shade on the field -- a valuable commodity when the temperature hovered around 100 degrees.
Ennis coach Chase Willingham told the freshman group there's a story behind the brief coolness they're enjoying.
"An older coach named Wayne Walker who used to coach here planted that tree so the people who came to watch us practice would have some shade and somewhere cool to watch us," Willingham said.
"He planted a shade tree that we get to enjoy. There's a lesson in that. Coach Walker isn't here anymore to see us enjoy it but sometimes, when we serve others, we don't always see the results. It doesn't mean we stop doing the right thing," he added.
Most Texas football coaches can turn anything into a life lesson, but under the scorching sun, Willingham's on Monday afternoon was eloquent.
So if coach Wayne Walker reads this, that shade tree is significantly appreciated during one of the hottest summers Texas has ever seen.
Football practice could begin statewide for all ninth graders at UIL schools on Monday.
Schools that classify as 1A through 4A could also start to hit the gridiron -- both JV and varsity.
The only ones not taking the field? Schools 5A through 6A unless JV and varsity didn't participate in spring ball.
For Ennis, it's just ninth graders this week.
But all of them spent just 20 minutes under the Texas sun running drills for their first practice.
There's a reason for that, per Willingham.
"We don't want to treat this like the military," Willingham said. "That's an old-school way of thinking. We want to get these kids here and take care of them so they can play hard come game time."
For most of the afternoon, the freshman team practiced in the air conditioning inside Ennis' indoor facility, with just shorts and a helmet.
"In there, they get to learn, and then when we get out here, they can put it to use," Willingham said. "We want them to execute outside."
Ennis Athletic Director Don Drake knows what's at stake.
Per the CDC, August is a top month for heat-related emergencies among high school athletes, and they happen more often at practice -- not during games.
Even though many attended summer training, Drake wants to ease kids into the weather.
"We can take these guys in here and get some good work in without worrying about the temperature outside," Drake said.
But Drake said it's also essential to acclimate kids to the weather, yet to do so at a viable pace.
"We want to get them to where they need to be before the season starts, but we don't have to do it all at once," Drake said.
Many teams in North Texas are choosing to work out in the mornings this week as the sun rises. It's an alternative way to beat the heat, especially if you can't practice indoors.
Either way, grueling afternoon practices in the sun are on their way.
Coaches in Ennis are preaching hydration before practice, during and after.
Communication is also vital, per Willingham.
"We make it clear to them that if they need water--to take a play off and get a drink and stay hydrated," Willingham said.