Anyone who knows Gus Hembree knows there is a light side to the Pisgah cross country coach.

His runners’ see it every day. But the come Monday, the light-hearted coach Hembree takes on a more serious tone.

“I like to keep summer fun,” Hembree said. “When (Monday) rolls around, the gloves come off and we begin to use all the work we did in the summer. The workouts get tougher and I push the kids harder. We know that our first race is now upcoming.”

High school cross country preseason practice begins statewide on Monday. The first official day for competition is Aug. 22. Most Jackson County teams will be in action Aug. 24 at the Pisgah Invitational or the Lawrence County Pepsi Challenge in Moulton. 

Scottsboro head coach Luke Robinson said his teams — the defending Class 5A girls and boys state champions — have experienced a challenging but beneficial summer of training. The Wildcats trained Sunday through Friday at 5:30 a.m. (6 a.m. on Sundays) and had 50 to 60 runners from grades 7-12 in attendance each day.

Scottsboro will transition from morning to afternoon practices once school begins, leaving Robinson to joke that his runners will “get to sleep in.” The afternoon practices, however, will test his runners, he said.

. “They’ll go from (running) in when (the temperatures) are in the 70s in the morning to the 90s in the afternoon. That’s always a tough transition,” Robinson said 

Skyline head coach Rhonda Saint said there is a physical and mental adjustment to be made when preseason practice officially begins.

“Practice will take on a more intense and focused path. I want to see each of (the runners) improve week by week,” Saint said. “Mentally preparing for cross country is always a challenge. Running is as much a mental sport as it is a physical sport. I tell my kids that all of the time. I believe in every single one of them. I know they are capable of doing well at this sport.”

Woodville head coach Bo Harding said his runners made important gains in training this summer, adding that must continue leading up to the start of the season.

“The training has gone pretty well this summer and we have some young guys and girls practicing hard and getting prepared for the season to begin,” Harding said. “Hopefully we will just continue to practice with enthusiasm. We are just going to strive for as much improvement as possible.”

Section head coach Stormy Stevens said the Lions want to build on their summer times.

“We just want to get a faster time every time we run,” he said. “I want my runners to push themselves farther than they think they can every practice.”

Robinson said Scottsboro must continue on their trek to be where they want to be for the postseason.

“Our training won’t change,” he said. “Everything we do points to November (for the state meet). Wednesdays and Saturdays — the races on Saturday — are our big runs for the week. We’re working toward peaking at the end of the season.”

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