Dave Shula remembers the days when asking for a drink of water at football practice was taboo.
When the former Cincinnati Bengals coach was playing at Chaminade-Madonna in Hollywood in the mid-1970s, he'd often chew handfuls of ice stuffed into his jersey to stay cool.
Today, coaches and players know better.
As thousands of high school football players around the state take the field for their first official practices Monday, hydration and avoiding heat illnesses are top concerns, especially in South Florida's sweltering conditions.
"If a kid wants water and he feels he needs a break, he's going to get that break," Cooper City coach Art Taylor said. "He's someone's son and I feel I'm responsible for each and every one of the kids out there. If my son wanted water and he felt he needed it, I'd give him water."
July continued a streak of hotter than normal temperatures throughout South Florida, according to the National Weather Service, with an average of 85 degrees. Temperatures have been one to two degrees above normal and forecasters expect more of the same throughout August.
That means coaches, athletes and parents will have to keep a watchful eye - especially on Thursday, when players will be allowed to don full pads and teams can participate in contact drills for the first time.
"[Monday] will be kind of tough, but it gets tougher when you get full pads on and you put helmets on," Nova High defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample said. "It's regulated and the coaches tell us to get drinks, but it gets tougher."
Many high school coaches will alter their practice schedules in an effort to stay out of the hottest parts of the day.
Twice-daily practices, long considered a football rite of passage, are still the norm, but several coaches will be opting for early morning and late afternoon sessions. Those who schedule practices in the middle of the day say those sessions will be less intense.
At Jupiter High, veteran coach Charlie Persson has carved out two three-hour blocks for practice.
That doesn't necessarily mean his team will be on the field the entire time, but that he and his assistant coaches will gauge conditions during those periods for the best times to be outside.
"At this time of year, the weather is so in flux that we block that big span of hours, but we'll rarely go over two hours on the field," Persson said. "There will also be meetings inside where we'll go over lessons and what we're trying to accomplish that day in practice."
Because many heat-related injuries are preventable, coaches and athletic trainers have spent months trying to educate players and parents in preparation for the season.
They've stressed the importance of proper hydration at home before and after practice. Some schools have even designed nutritional programs designed to keep players safe.
Some athletes have added special drinks such as Pedialyte and chocolate milk to their hydration regimen. And athletic trainers throughout South Florida will be using special devices to monitor the heat index, which factors in humidity.
Shula said to avoid fried food and overloading with protein and fiber, as well as to stay away from caffeine and soda. He suggested athletes eat a piece of grilled chicken, pasta for carbs and some fruit.
"Make sure the tank is full. When I was coaching and playing, I found the biggest problem was with what people were eating. You'd ask, what did you have for breakfast? 'Nothing.' What did you have for lunch? 'Fried chicken and a Coke.' Fried food and caffeine is not a good way to get ready," Shula said.
Besides nutrition, the type of fluids consumed is also important.
Terri Swanson, coach of the Runner's Depot Training Team, has been directing runners in high-volume training for upcoming marathons through the summer. She said to use an electrolyte replacement drink that contains sodium, potassium and magnesium.
"Some drinks just have sodium and potassium. Get one that has all three minerals and take a calcium [supplement]. This is something new for us, and the magnesium and calcium is really helping with cramping," Swanson said. "Do it every night before bed; when the body is at rest, it's more easily absorbed."
It is important to follow exercise within 15 minutes with a recovery drink containing protein and carbohydrates to promote muscle recovery. Swanson said to look for one with less than 10 grams of sugar.
Steps like these are crucial in preventing heat-related injuries, including heatstroke, which can be fatal.
According to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research, 42 football players from youth leagues to the pros have died from heatstroke since 1995. Thirty-one of those deaths involved high school students.
That's one of the reasons that the Broward County Athletic Association brought in Frank Walters, the director of sports medicine at Broward Health, to speak with coaches about heat-related injuries during a preseason meeting Thursday.
Walters recommended that coaches should try to follow the preseason heat acclimatization guidelines issued by the National Athletic Trainers' Association.
In those guidelines, the NATA recommends one daily practice during the first five days of drills and that practices be limited to three hours a day.
The Florida High School Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in the state, doesn't have any particular restrictions on practice times and heat indices, but it does limit the first three days of practice to shorts and helmets. Contact and full pads is not allowed until day four.
For many coaches, monitoring their players will remain the biggest way to avoid heat-related injuries.
That can be challenging in a sport where most young athletes are trying to impress their coaches, teammates and college scouts.
"It's a fine line between toughing it out vs. being dumb," said Shula, who recently finished a high-intensity training program in preparation for his second Ironman triathlon. "Especially at the high school level where kids are not necessarily aware of what is happening to their bodies, why they're suddenly feeling sluggish or disoriented or [they] can't remember the plays. Coaches and athletes need to be watching to see who's slowing down."
Players, for their part, need to make sure they communicate with their coaches. They also need to understand that asking for water or a much-needed break isn't a negative.
"It's hard because sometimes you want to be a leader, but it's not about being a leader," Plantation defensive end/linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "It's about being smart and knowing how to take care of yourself."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times