HIGH POINT — Public high school football is finally almost here, and area teams have been practicing for the season.
It’s been an unusual year, to say the least, and N.C. High School Athletic Association football has been among the sports most affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Traditionally a fall sport and one of the signs that school is starting back, football got bumped to the spring to help mitigate the spread of the virus. So now, after practice started Feb. 8, games will begin Friday, Feb. 26.
“It’s different, but our guys have done a great job,” High Point Central coach Jacob Sheffield said. “Numbers are about where I thought they’d be — JV and varsity. We’re still waiting on basketball players to finish, so that’s a part of it. The overlap is a little tough, but we’ll navigate it.
“It’s not normal — I’ll tell you that. I do think you’ll see some things out of this group at Central you haven’t seen in a while. Not necessarily just football but the way it looks — kids knowing their responsibilities, playing team football. My only goal with this season is to be better in April than in February.”
The weather has been one of the biggest variables so far. On the one hand, teams aren’t having to deal with the usual summer heat. On the other hand, teams have been subjected to the brutal cold and rain. Practice facilities are limited, because several other sports are in season, so they simply do the best they can with what’s available.
“The field is under water, and when it rains again we’ll be out there in canoes, I guess,” Southwest Guilford coach Chuck Doak said with a laugh. “It’s interesting.”
Football, like all NCHSAA sports, has been condensed. Workouts were shorter, practices are shorter and the season itself will be shorter — teams will play seven games this season. Teams will likely focus more on basics, and players and coaches — both newcomers and veterans — will have to adjust.
“There is not a playbook for it,” Sheffield said. “Being a first-time head coach, you’re trying to navigate it the best you can. Even guys who’ve done this forever, I’ve talked with them and they’re all in the same boat — How do you rewrite what we’re used to doing?
“That’s been the tough aspect of it. You’ve got to prepare. Like this week we’re looking at a chance of snow, and last week we got rained out at the end of the week. It’s being creative — as creative as you can be. … There will be things that come up and we’ll just work with them the best we can.”
Doak said he actually likes the season where it is because it follows the college and pro seasons and finishes in the spring. But this year, because of the nature of the pandemic, it’s been difficult to work ahead — even with fairly routine items like finding opponents.
“It’s frustrating at first because every day is something new,” he said. “I’m trying to fill out our JV schedule right now, because we had some spots open up in that. So, I’m contacting everybody I can think of in the county, in Davidson County, to try to find JV games.
“I found a couple, so I think we’ll be OK. But it’s not business as usual anymore. And, for me, traditionally that’s an OK thing. I like a little bit of change. But the planning — you can’t plan ahead. You can’t plan for tomorrow or a week down the road, because something’s going to change. It’s a day-to-day thing.”
The teams have been good about following coronavirus protocols, both coaches said, and they’ll all adjust to how the game is played this spring. It will be different, but the main thing is that they’re playing. After a summer of build-ups and letdowns, teams are now gearing up to play.
All things considered, they’ll take it.
“Absolutely,” Doak said with a laugh. “Every day of the week I’d take this. In August, they told us we’d be able to work out and then no. And then we’re going to work out and no. And then we’re going to work out and no. I just watched our kids sink deeper and deeper this summer.
“We tried to do the online workouts and stuff. And as effective as that was, it’s still not working out in the weight room and it’s still not conditioning outside. So, when they told us we were going to have a season, yeah, I don’t care when it is — give us a season.”
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