CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The second thing you’ll notice at a Will Healy practice is that it’s a lot different than most. But the first thing you’ll notice is when it starts. 

Practices at 5:30 a.m., aren’t part of first-year head coach Will Healy’s new wave coaching methods. It’s just logistics. 

“Obviously taking over as late as we did, classes were fixed, so we didn’t have a two-hour window where we had everybody here,” said Healy, who was hired in December. 

But there is some new science behind it. It’s better for the brain. 

“We did a lot of research about the health concerns,” Healy said, “especially with concussions. They say as you go on and on in your day you become more dehydrated. The morning part is the most hydrated you can be.” 

The Niners made Healy their second football coach last December. The 34-year-old is the second-youngest coach at the FBS level and turned around a dormant Austin Peay program in just three years. Along the way becoming well known for his recruiting … but also his unrivaled energy and enthusiasm. 

“These are all lessons, energy positivity enthusiasm, passion, that these are all things that will help these guys way after they graduate from Charlotte,” said Healy. “I also believe that if we’re not having fun doing what we’re doing, then why are we doing it?” 

That’s why Healy is breaking up the early morning practice with some new traditions. A third-down war chant for the defense. 

And after an interception? Dunks into a trash can and shaking hands after practice. 

Fifth-year senior Alex Highsmith says the culture has been lifted.

“We’ve got something special brewing here,” the defensive end said, “and I’m just so excited. Like I said the culture is changing.”

Healy is also frequently accessible to media and lets cameras close up to any of his practices. At some schools, media isn’t even invited.

“I love football, but football is not my life,” he said. “I think the life lessons it teaches you are second to none. We try to make sure to harp on those but have a lot of fun in the process.”