The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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August 21, 2012

The dawning of a new day

Level, Greenbrier East teammates feel culture changing under new coach

FAIRLEA — While most teenagers are dreading the start of the school year for one loud and obnoxious reason — the alarm clock — members of the Greenbrier East football team see the start of another round of classes as a chance to sleep in.

No, the Spartans won’t be skipping their morning academics. But a school day that starts around 8 a.m. isn’t nearly as difficult as a football practice that begins at 6 a.m.

That’s the time that new GEHS head coach Ray Lee has had his team on the field throughout the summer. By the time many West Virginia prep teams arrived at the practice field, the Spartan players were packed up and on their way home.

It was a schedule that, at first, was a little like jumping in a tub of ice water — in the middle of an Alaska winter.

“I think I had to be up at 4:45,” said senior Ethan Level. “It was rough. I was groggy the first two days.”

Slowly — and perhaps surprisingly — Level said he grew to love the morning air.

“Now, my mind is like an alarm clock,” he said. “It’s nice and cool outside, and we’re getting a lot of work in.”

Level explained that the early start time has inspired players to stay longer after practice, working on individual drills on their own, knowing that they still have plenty of time left to enjoy the day away from the practice field.

“I think the most kickers we’ve had is two, and now we have four or five working after practice,” he said. “The wide receivers are staying after practice and working on extra routes, and the defense is working on some things. There are a lot of things going on.”

The dawn workouts haven’t driven anybody away, either. A Spartan team that usually has somewhere around 45 players on its roster has been practicing with 62 this preseason.

“Coach Lee came to the school when he got the job, and he had a little speech for us,” said Level. “There was probably 80-some kids in there. I think what he talked about, never losing at home and stuff like that, got us excited to play. I think the intensity with him has changed us.

“The work effort from every one has just changed completely — on and off the field.”

Level is hopeful that the change in attitude will lead to a change in results. The Spartans haven’t been to the Class AAA playoffs since 1998, and after a 5-5 campaign under former head coach Aaron Baker last year, they’re confident they’re ready to make the next step.

“I had some seniors up (at the practice field) the other day, and that’s what we talked about,” said Level. “We want to get the program back on the map.

“You always have state championship in the back of your mind, and obviously that’s what we’re working for. But, like coach said, it’s one practice, one week and one game at a time.”

Level could be an important part of that equation. As a part-time quarterback last year, he didn’t get a chance to make as many plays as he would have liked. Now, he’s moved over to wide receiver, and he’s loving every snap.

“It’s a change in atmosphere,” explained the 6-foot, 180-pounder, who will also play in the defensive secondary and be the Spartans’ punter. “There’s more pressure at quarterback, because everyone is watching you. At wide receiver, I’m already outside of the linemen, and I get to use more speed. I love it.”

And he’d love it even more if East could just find a way to get a 6 a.m. game on its schedule.

— E-mail: chuffman@

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