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high school football:

Spring Valley’s midnight practice includes dodging sprinklers, great view

Grizzlies players long anticipate first official practice, when they take the field before other programs

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Sam Morris

Spring Valley head coach Marcus Teal talks to his team at the conclusion of their annual midnight football practice to kick off the season Thursday, August 11, 2011.

2011 Spring Valley Midnight Football Practice

Spring Valley players huddle during their annual midnight football practice to kick off the season Thursday, August 11, 2011. Launch slideshow »

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The first high school football practice in Las Vegas occurred at an unlikely hour again this summer. And, in a city known for its bright lights, Spring Valley High’s annual midnight practice included one amazing view.

As the team of 40-plus players raced onto the field Thursday morning at 12:01 a.m. — the first minute Nevada teams could officially practice — in one of the great local gridiron traditions, it did so with a backdrop fitting for a postcard.

While the Grizzlies’ offensive players worked on the passing game on the south part of the field, the Strip was visible in the background with casinos such as the Rio, Caesars Palace and the Wynn so clear it appeared they were within walking distance. However, the school is on Buffalo Drive and Flamingo Road.

The midnight gathering, complete with a cookout for families and a performance from the cheerleading squad earlier in the evening, is something the players long anticipate. The theory is being the first ones on the field helps Spring Valley be first in other areas — to score, in the standings and classroom.

But as the event has grown over the years since the school opened in 2004, it has become more about developing a sense of pride in the community around the school. While Las Vegas will never have the same hometown feel as schools in Ohio or Texas, the midnight event has that small-town atmosphere.

“Those small towns, they do it right,” Spring Valley coach Marcus Teal said. “Everybody goes to the games on Friday night. They shut the town down in those places. That is what we want to do here. We want people to come watch the Grizzlies play.”

The 80-minute practice included everything from stretching, conditioning and running plays. Unlike other voluntary workouts this summer, these practices can be made mandatory and players were allowed to wear helmets. After three practices, pads are handed out and hitting begins. Athletes are required to have 10 practices before the first game, which is Aug. 26 for most schools.

Spring Valley returns four of 22 starters and Teal has preached to his players about being ready to handle the trials and tribulations of a potentially rough season. He never imagined the first adversity would come less than 30 minutes into the initial practice.

Despite Teal’s request to have the sprinklers turned off for the night, the players were dodging water all practice. When the sprinkler cycle moved to the middle of the field, they were immediately wet. It didn’t seem to bother the players, who appeared more energized while running in and around the water.

After all, nothing was going to ruin the midnight practice tradition. Parents sat in the bleachers and clapped when Teal led them onto the field at the crack of midnight.

“This is something that brings us all together as a team and helps us bond with each other so when it comes to smacking helmets on the field we can do it as a family,” said senior running back Nick Santos, a three-year varsity performer.

They will return at 7 p.m. Thursday for their second practice, which Teal says is always productive. It’s an event he would never think about canceling, one where the benefits are seen with the smile on his players’ faces.

“I could say that I didn’t want to do (the midnight practice) anymore, but the kids would say we have to do it,” Teal said. “This is for them. It gives them something to be proud of and that makes it worth it.”

Teal was part master motivator during the practice, telling his team, “This is the beginning. Enjoy the moment,” and “Let’s make the naysayers eat their words.”

Enjoying the moment is something the players have no problem doing at their midnight practice. Being first, at least for one night, is a great way to start the season.

“It is midnight. We are all ready to get after it,” senior linebacker Rondale Scruggs said.

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