In the late afternoon, the neighboring Fort Mill/Lancaster County varsity football teams have called it a day, recuperating from the early morning grind and preparing for the next day of practices.
The Nation Ford Falcon are just getting started.
"We play our ball games in the evenings, so we practice in the evenings," said Nation Ford coach Rusty Jester after the first round of team drills ended close to 5 p.m. They would begin again promptly an hour later, and continue well into the evening.
The Falcons, whose football debut coincided with the opening of Nation Ford High School in 2007, have struggled to carve their niche into the Fort Mill sports scene over the years.
Last season, competing against a loaded schedule equally as grueling as their cross-town rival Fort Mill Yellow Jackets, the Falcons went 3-8, with an 0-5 region record. But, considering they were only outscored by an average of 9.7 points per game, the team has brought a newfound sense of confidence and energy into the summer months.
"The level of determination I've noticed in my team this summer is definitely promising," Jester said. "Our 7-on-7s were exciting and competitive, and the team's conditioning is near where I wanted it to be going into the season. We have a lot of guys paying the price to be successful, and I know it will pay off."
And though the team, which moved down to Class AAA this season, has steadily improved in athleticism and overall play each of its first four years under Jester, one key area in particular has to be noticeably stronger in his eyes: Toughness, and the aggression required to outhustle opponents on both sides of the ball.
Defensive end Logan Daughtry, a key component to the pass rush-intensive 4-4 scheme, is ready to answer his coach's challenge and up the level of intensity.
"I completely agree with coach (Jester) that our mentality was one of the key factors for our lack of success last season," Daughtry said. "In response to that, our team hit the weights in the offseason harder than we ever have, getting bigger, stronger and more well conditioned. We've gotten a lot tougher and I think we're going to be a better overall team this season."
On the offensive side, the Falcons use a streamlined I-formation and the spread offense. In order to move the chains, the offense will rely on a stout running game and the chemistry between seniors Thomas Condron and Will Ford, who play quarterback and wide receiver respectively.
Condron, a traditional pocket passer with solid mobility, will have the responsibility of being the field general in an offense that relies on his crisp passing and decision making.
"I worked on developing a well-rounded game this offseason, which included improving my arm strength, speed and leadership in the huddle," Condron said. "But for this offense to click the way it can, the two most important things are vision and accuracy."
Though a successful season would speak volumes for the progression the team has made, a winning record would mean much more to Nation Ford as a whole. According to Jester, the school needs a banner sports program to hang its hat on.
The school's boys swim team has a state championship, the first and only one in school history.
"A lot of our kids growing up had ties to Fort Mill, and grew up rooting for and playing for Fort Mill teams," Jester said. "This season is important because it's another chance for our guys to establish an identity for themselves, which we've been working towards over the years. We don't really have an identity right now, we are still considered a new school and a new sports program."
Jester spent a season coaching Fort Mill, but moved to Nation Ford when it opened the next school year. He has built the program from the ground up.
"When we first came to Nation Ford, we didn't have a stadium or a strong program, and we've grown a lot over the years," added Daughtry, who has played for the Falcons since 2007. "I consider it a challenge to create an identity for us."
The Nation Ford Falcons open their season Aug. 20 at home against Gastonia's Forestview. It is a full week before Indian Land and Fort Mill begin their seasons, and Jester insists they will be ready by then. But for a team hungry to be respected as a viable football squad, the earlier start serves as yet another way to differentiate themselves from their peers.