Players and coaches were able to make their return to the weight rooms and practice fields across the state as high school athletic programs returned to campus after going on a hiatus from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting June 1, high school coaches and athletes will have to face a variety of different measures in order to ensure the safety of avoiding any type of COVID-19 infection or spread.
However, the loss of spring training and the new measures create problems for traditional summer football training, which is the case for coaches across the state and in the Pine Belt.
“Spring football for me is a chance to see younger guys that you are not sure about, so you miss that,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “Spring football is a chance to learn your younger guys and where they can factor in, so that’s going to be missed. The worst part about all of this is just not being around our guys this whole time. We have had done team meetings, but being able to be around them, see them and encourage them and do those things that we do. The hardest part about this is not having been able to actually see our players and talk to them face to face and not over the phone.”
Like Causey, Lumberton coach Zach Jones also finds that missing spring football and workouts will make it more difficult to learn about the younger athletes.
“We do have a couple of spots that we are trying to fill,” Jones said. We think we have identified some guys to play those spots. Missing the spring hurts those guys’ chances to compete for those spots. We may not know by the first game which person it is going to be. It may take three of four ball games to figure out those spots.”
Programs are not allowed to have competition among MHSAA member or non-member schools are canceled until fall. Teams are not allowed to travel to summer programs or team camps. Lastly, programs should adhere to either national, state, and local COVID-19 health recommendations.
For football programs, this means that teams will not be allowed to compete in 7-on-7 football, travel to other summer team football camps while having to limit and manage the number of players that are allowed to on campus, inside weight rooms and outside.
“Right now, we have a split from our skill guys and our linemen,” Jones said. “We’ll have them then split into smaller groups, and they will stay with that smaller group for the time being so they’ll be in groups of about six to seven. There will be four stations they go to with two outside and two in the weight room. You can’t have a spotter, so you’ll have to use lighter weight, which is okay. It’s going to be different. Will it be a challenge? Yes. Will we adapt? Yes. I think our kids will adapt and will be ready to get after it.”
According to Causey, Oak Grove’s will take a slow approach to the workouts to avoid any offseason injuries and while having to manage a larger roster of players.
“We will have three or four different groups that show up at different times to work out,” Causey said. “We have to get 150 kids through our weight room, which includes our ninth-grade team. We can only have 20 people in our weight room at one time in which our weight room can hold 60 kids. Outside we can only have 20 people out, and they’ll be going through different drills with things like that.
“The biggest is making sure that we don’t have too many people around at once, then somebody gets sick, and then you set football back and then (may) not be able to play in August,” Causey said.
However, for both Causey and Jones, reconfiguring summer workouts is a new challenge. According to Causey, the biggest concern heading into summer workouts is ensuring his players’ fitness ready for the start of the season and avoid injury.
“We’ll be going at a slower pace to protect the kids and avoid injury,” Causey said. “We are going to take our time with it. We usually do a team offense and team defense and (learning plays). We would do 7-on-7 a lot of different individual drills with our groups. None of that will be done right. We are going to work on our form in the weight room and our different lifts. Our condition is about half of what it would be at this point.”
Both Lumberton and Oak Grove made it to the state championship game last year and played over 15 games. For Jones, like Causey, the main concern is knowing that players will be physically prepared for a long season.
“We have to revamp our total workouts,” Jones said. “Last year we played 16 ball games. I’m not as worried about missing practices as I am with the workouts that we missed the last part of March and the whole month of April. That’s the biggest concern of mine is playing a long season and trying to get the bodies ready for a long 15-16 game season, which is what we hope to do every year. That’s my biggest concern making sure we are ready to play a full season.”
Despite having these concerns, every football program across the state has the same problems.
“We are all on the same playing field, which is a unique thing,” Jones said. “Everybody across the state is having to abide by it, so I don’t think it puts anybody at a disadvantage.”