Normally football fans begin licking their chops in July, knowing that the high school game will be back in a few short weeks.
In 2020, however, there is some tiptoeing and trepidation as the season nears and COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Georgia. Will the rug be pulled out at the last minute? So far, so good. Teams are in the next phase of summer practice, with restrictions of course. Local teams will be able to get into helmets this week and coaches hope the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) will allow the schedule to begin as planned with scrimmages. It’s a little more complicated than that, though. The county school system currently has a policy that indicates that students who attend school online in the fall will not be eligible to play sports. Neither county football coach said they will lose players to that policy, and there’s no telling how it will all shake out in the end at this point.
“A lot of stuff is still in the air as to what is going to happen,” said North Murray coach Preston Poag. “A lot of systems in Atlanta, for example, are going to start with virtual school and will still have sports. For us, we start school so late. I guess it just depends on how things go.”
Teams continue to take baby steps as the season draws closer, trying to keep a clear mind and create some normalcy amid the craziness of COVID-19.
“We finally got to use a ball and do different things,” Poag said. “You could do 7-on-7 and stuff within your own team. We still have no locker room access. This week you can go to helmets. The only thing that has changed from the last couple of weeks, really, is you can go to helmets. You can’t be in the locker room. You can’t do anything against another team. I guess it is a step in the right direction. We get to wear helmets.”
The uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis made it hard to create a practice schedule for the whole summer, Poag said, which throws a wrench in the gears when it comes to parents making summer plans, players knowing what to expect, and so on.
“We’re supposed to scrimmage Aug. 7 at Pepperell,” Poag said. “That’s just right around the corner. You have one more week of workouts and then the mandatory days the next week and you start practice Aug. 1 and scrimmage Aug. 7, so it’s here.”
Across town at Murray, things have been mostly the same except for one hiccup, head coach Chad Brewer’s bout with COVID-19. He began feeling poorly a week or so ago and went to the doctor, who diagnosed him with the virus. The county school system took protective measures and shut workouts down until yesterday. Fortunately, Brewer is no worse for wear and the always exuberant coach is fired up to get back after it.
“We’ve been working out and conditioning in June and in July; the one week we got to go, we went every day,” Brewer said. “We started installing. It looked like real football. We started installing everything as far as plays and getting ready for the season.”
Teams can now practice with a football and participate in passing drills and so-on during their time on the field. Getting to put helmets on this week is going to help out, Brewer said.
“That changes things a little bit,” he said. “They didn’t get spring practice, so they haven’t had helmets on yet. That’ll be good, but it’s also kind of scary. We did 7-on-7 last week because we could, but I thought, ‘Lord, it would only take an elbow or kids hitting heads or something to have an injury.’ We got lucky with that. That’s what we’ll progress to this week, getting the helmets on and going back to our install and conditioning. We don’t want to overdo it, but make sure we’re getting our kids ready to play football.”
North Murray is scheduled to open the regular season on Sept. 4 by hosting Northwest Whitfield in a much-anticipated showdown. Murray will test its mettle straight away with a road matchup with nearby Gilmer County on Sept. 4.