Officially, high school basketball practice doesn't begin until Nov. 4.
But Hoover High basketball Coach Kirt Kohlmeier watches his players work out every day. Already, he can see trouble.
"It's going to be a long December," he said. "It will take a while for this team to jell together."
Kohlmeier's observation isn't drawn from what he sees on the basketball court. Practice hasn't even begun.
Rather, his problems begin on the football field, where three starters and five members of the Hoover basketball team are also wearing helmet and pads this season.
Though basketball practice is less than two weeks away, Kohlmeier may not see the players for some time. There are at least four weeks of football left.
And for Hoover, the end of the regular season could only be the beginning.
The Tornadoes (6-0) are off to their best start ever. That's good news for football Coach Fred Cuccia.
For Kohlmeier, Hoover's strong football showing means it could be as late as mid-December--after the Southern Section playoffs--before he can field his best team.
"This is the first year I've had so many players out for football," Kohlmeier said. "We have a lot of question marks right now."
There are questions surrounding Hoover's football team, too.
Just how good is it?
"We have the potential to be a good football team," Cuccia said.
There is evidence that the Tornadoes are more than that already.
They have outscored their six opponents by a combined 188-83. That's only four points less than Hoover scored all last season.
In addition, the offense has rolled up 2,279 total yards and 28 touchdowns. Five players have more than 400 yards each in total offense.
The impressive numbers have not necessarily impressed Cuccia.
"We haven't played a solid game yet," he said. "We have far too many mental lapses. We have a long way to go before we reach our potential."
Cuccia paused, then continued as his expression turned to a smile:
"The last two years I would have taken being 6-0 with no questions. I always wanted to know what a coach would say when his team was 6-0.
"But we can score 49 points in a game and not play to our potential."
Hoover's explosiveness is also a drawback in terms of consistent effort, Cuccia said.
"The players believe that we can score at any time, and they play like that," he said. "And defensively, when we get out to a real big lead, the guys think they can do what they want."
For instance, in last week's 48-23 victory over Crescenta Valley, Hoover raced to a 35-0 lead at half.
Jeffrey Hargrew rushed four times for 127 yards and Danny Esparza had 131 yards on eight carries.
Then Crescenta Valley came back with 23 points in the third period to make it a ballgame.
"Finally, we woke up and started to play again," Cuccia said.
Consistent or not, the result was the same--a victory.
And despite Cuccia's concerns, the Tornadoes have been consistent on paper.
Quarterback John Alaimo, in his third year running the Hoover option offense, has completed 44 of 75 passes for 628 yards and four touchdowns. He has thrown only two interceptions.
Cuccia isn't modest when the subject is his quarterback: "I'm biased, but I think he's the best player in the area. He may not have the great numbers throwing the ball, but he sure knows how to run the option, and there are some colleges waiting for him to do it for them."
Alaimo's favorite target is three-year starter Tony Konjoyan, who has 28 catches for 428 yards and two touchdowns.
On the ground, where Hoover has gained 1,552 yards (for an average of 258 a game), Alaimo has a number of options.
The leading rusher is transfer Al Roberson, who lets his 81 carries for 622 yards and five touchdowns do his talking.
Other than that, Roberson is silent to the media. He has taken the stance after media reports of a school investigation into Roberson's residency that sidelined the senior for one game.
"It's a sad situation, but it's behind us now," Cuccia said.
Roberson is complemented by Hargrew (36 carries for 415 yards and four touchdowns) and Esparza (50 carries for 412 yards and four touchdowns) to form Hoover's formidable ground game.
The numbers draw attention, but Cuccia expected that from a unit that returned nine starters. His only surprise, he said, has been the play of sophomore tackle Joe Ferguson and the offensive line.
"They have allowed us to do what we want," Cuccia said. "They're getting off the ball and moving people, and that's all that we can ask."
Cuccia is also getting what he wants from his defense, despite occasional mental lapses.
The defense is allowing fewer than 14 points a game. "A lot of points have been scored after the game had already been won," Cuccia said.
"Defense is still our pride and joy."
Cuccia, however, is looking for more than just victories. He wants a top effort every week.
"Our goal is to play to our potential," he said. "We haven't done that yet."
Motivation is not a problem. Hoover never practices for more than two hours as Cuccia strives to keep it fun for the players.
In fact, he said the players provided their own inspiration for this season after being humiliated by Camarillo last season in the opening round of the playoffs, 49-6.
"After that game, the players got together on their own and decided they didn't want to be embarrassed like that again and that they wanted to do whatever it took for us to win," Cuccia said.
"This year, they haven't been afraid to work hard."
Or win big.
Which is good news unless you are Kirt Kohlmeier.