NFL! NCAA! Prep football! If you ever doubt the nation’s love affair with football, just witness the headlines on the sports pages and websites during August.

NFL! NCAA! Prep football!


All are practicing.


If you ever doubt the nation’s love affair with football, just witness the headlines on the sports pages and websites during August.


These pages must be full of game stories, analysis, statistics, photos and more, right?


No. Everyone is talking about practice.


Something tells me I speak for most fans when I say the regular season can’t get here fast enough.


Still, as any coach would tell you, practice is important. After all, champions are not determined on podiums at the end of the season. The winners and losers are separated by the preparation and dedication they put in before the first game is ever played.


Preseason is a time to form a foundation for the rest of the season. Players get into top-notch shape, coaches work on lineups and game plans and fans, well, they wonder about the possibilities.


This is the time of year when writers look deep into the crystal ball. Some go as far as predicting the precise moment a championship will be captured.


All the talk and predictions aside, practice can be perilous for players. In many cases, players are exerting themselves in peak levels of heat and humidity.


In places like the Deep South, where the humidity stays relatively high 24/7 this time of year, moving practices to early mornings won’t completely solve the problem.


According to a recent CDC report, football is the sport that sends the most people to the hospital for heat-related emergencies.


Researchers looked at emergency statistics from  2001-09. They found that nearly a quarter of visits for heat-related illnesses went back to football.


What can be done to prevent this? The National Athletic Trainers’ Association suggests taking precautions, such as:?Increasing activity slowly, resting frequently, drinking plenty of water and avoiding intense exercise if another illness, such as fever, already exists.


These are just a few recommendations when addressing this serious issue.


As another CDC report found, heat illness during practice or competition is the leading cause of death and disability for high school athletes.


It is important that everyone keep in mind the risks involved with mixing heat with sports.


That way, we can all enjoy a safe and exciting new season ... soon.


Weekly Citizen of Gonzales, La.