MANCHESTER - As the warm breeze of summer starts to turn into the cool chill of autumn, it can only mean one thing.

Football is back.

On Monday, Vermont's 33 high school football teams returned to the gridiron to mark the start of the 2013 season, and football players around the state are embracing the start of a new campaign.

"It's awesome," said Burr and Burton Academy running back Eric Cerra. "It feels so good to get the pads on again."

BBA coach Jason Thomas echoed the sentiment.

"It feels great to get the season rolling. We have some fresh faces coming in, but we have a lot of guys returning," said Thomas, whose Bulldogs finished 6-4 last season.

With the start of the regular season less than two weeks away, coaches around the state are working on getting their teams into game shape. On Tuesday at BBA, Thomas spent time going over every facet of the game with his team, from defensive line responsibilities to special teams formations.

"We are working on fundamentals, technique, making sure the kids are in the condition we need," Thomas said. "Every year is a big puzzle, and you have to figure out where the pieces fit in."

Another piece of that puzzle is keeping players healthy.

Per the Vermont Principals' Association, the first three days of practice are considered "no contact" ones, meaning that no hitting is involved. While it means that student-athletes cannot jump right into things like tackling, it helps to make sure kids are on the field for week 1.

"That's what they are here for [hitting]," Thomas said. "But you have to be smart about it, too. We have to make sure that we are healthy."

The start of the preseason also gives juniors and seniors a chance to take over the leadership roles vacated by graduating seniors. The preseason gives coaches a chance to identify who will lead the team for the upcoming season.

"We have a "big brother, little brother" deal, trying to bring the older kids with the younger kids to bring them in the fold faster," said Thomas, who has nearly 40 players in camp. "It cultivates leadership, and we certainly need leadership from the team because kids get sick of hearing from me all the time. If we start getting that leadership from the team itself, we will be better off in the long run."

With full-contact practices starting at the end of this week, teams will have two full weeks of padded practices to iron out the kinks before the season openers on Aug. 30.

But as Thomas pointed out, this is the easy part.

"We have a lot of good energy out here, and they are flying around out there," Thomas said. "But this is when it is easy, when it is still fresh."

BBA kicks off the season at home against Lyndon Institute on the 30th, while Mount Anthony Union High School will kick off on the same night at home against Hartford.