The alarm sounds at the crack of dawn.
With fog still lingering over the surrounding mountains, bleary-eyed teenagers roll out of bed and trudge to the gridiron for a Pennsylvania tradition: high school football camp.
Whether the practice field is the pristine turf of Mansion Park or Tiger Stadium, the dusty grass of Claysburg or Williamsburg, or lining the cornfields of the Cove, some of the most important work of the high school football season is going on right now.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Bishop Guilfoyle High School football coach Marty Georgianatalks to his team between drills on Monday during the first official day of practice.
The air may still be somewhat cool as players report to early-morning practice sessions, but they know that in just a few short hours, the summer sun will have burned away that protective layer of moisture, giving way to the 90-plus degree temperatures that always seem to accompany these particular weeks of the year.
Inside the players' helmets and underneath their shoulder pads, it is even hotter, perspiration blurring their eyes and pouring down their backs as they are put through their paces. Like the scene from the movie, "Fame,'' "This is where you start paying: in sweat."
Through sore muscles and sunburn, teams come together, wishing for a cool breeze while performing wind sprints, praying for an afternoon shower while peeling themselves up off the ground during tackling drills.
At the same time, they are building bonds, with friendship and teamwork solidified by common misery and common goals.
If pain is temporary, and glory forever, these few tough weeks of two-a-days will soon flow into the excitement of the weekly rhythm of the high school football season, with the seemingly endless practices under the unrelenting sun and oppressive heat a distant memory.
As the leaves begin to change colors and the crisp fall air draws near, the challenges of camp will be pleasantly replaced by the sights of banners welcoming students back to school and fans climbing into bleachers, decked out in their Bellwood-Antis blue and gold or Tyrone black and orange.
The sounds of football will fill the air, from the soft clicking of cleats across blacktop as teams make their way from their locker rooms to stadiums, to the whistle of referees to start the game, the fight songs of marching bands, and the yells of cheerleaders.
The smells of football season will spark our senses, from hot popcorn to hot dogs to hot chocolate.
The events of football season will fill our calendar: pep rallies, bonfires, fundraisers, homecoming parades and dances, and of course, the weekly community gatherings around the games themselves.
This week, it may be hard to see that far ahead, for overheated players working to make it from one day, one practice, one drill to the next. However, in the blink of an eye, they'll be bundled up on the sidelines for playoff football, wondering where the weeks went, and maybe even wishing they could go back and do it all again.
Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.