Given the stringent guidelines in place to protect players and coaches from contracting COVID-19, there really isn’t a whole lot a high school football team can currently accomplish.
But the McDowell Titans are still doing everything they can.
McDowell began holding Tuesday and Thursday workouts this week, with approximately 70 varsity and jayvee players in attendance. Right now, the workouts consist almost entirely of conditioning and agility drills; no footballs are even allowed on the field, and players couldn’t pass and catch or hand off the ball anyway.
But Titans head coach Darrell Brewer said the physical aspects of the game are less important than under normal circumstances.
“Being together — I think that’s the biggest thing,” said the second-year head coach. “I think it’s more important for them to see us and us to see them, if we don’t do anything but sit down and talk. We’re trying to be a family and they’ve got us all spread apart.”
Thursday, coaches like longtime defensive coordinator Keith Styles and Athletic Trainer Maeve Healy were busy making sure the voluminous required paperwork was completed and players were free from a lengthy set of symptoms, including fever.
“Welcome to the new face of high school football,” quipped Styles as he checked a player’s temperature.
On the field, athletes and coaches kept their distance during footwork drills and sprints.
Needless to say, it’s been a challenge for everyone involved.
“After the 20 minutes worth of paperwork you get through, and you get their temperature checked and you send them to the field and make sure they’re 6 feet apart and you can’t use a football or a helmet or shoulder pads. There are some challenges,” said Brewer.
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association suspended all sports activities March 12 as the novel coronavirus began to proliferate. When North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the Department of Health and Human Services canceled the remainder of the school term Apr. 24, the NCHSAA followed suit and wrote off the rest of the athletic season.
The stoppage came at a bad time for the Titans. McDowell, coming off a 1-9 season, returns a solid group of seniors and had a successful jayvee squad. Enthusiasm was high in early March.
“I hate it for these kids, because we had just maxed in the weight room when they sent us home, and we had some big gains and the kids were excited,” said Brewer. “We were jacked up, and then, ‘see ya.’ And there we’ve been since March.”
Now, it’s late June, and programs all over the state are trying to recapture the momentum they had built up in spring. The state is currently in phase one of a three-part reopening plan, with the specifics of phases two and three yet to be outlined.
Brewer said getting back to normal is going to be a slow process.
“We’re going to do Tuesdays and Thursdays until we’re out of phase one,” he said. “If we get to where we can practice football, then we’ll start practicing football.”
In addition to on-field activities, teams are allowed to conduct weight room workouts as well. But only 10 people, one of whom must be a coach, are allowed in the weight room at one time, and the entire facility must be thoroughly sanitized after each group leaves. With more than 70 football players to accommodate, the logistical difficulties are obvious.
“Right now, it’s not worth us trying to go in there,” said Brewer, although the coach added he hopes to initiate some outdoor weight lifting later in the summer.
Despite the problems, Brewer said he’s encouraged by the turnout he’s seen.
“I’m tickled with the numbers that showed up,” said Brewer.
The Titans are scheduled to open the season at home against R-S Central on Friday, Aug. 21. But the prospect of starting the season on time is nebulous at best.
“I don’t think anybody knows,” said Brewer. “The governor is making all the decisions, and whatever he says, we do. They might tell us tomorrow we’re not playing.”
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