During a normal school year, local football fields might be abuzz with activity now with the warming weather, with high schools holding spring practice prior to the sport getting going in the fall.
But this year, the fields and stadiums are as empty as some of the closed retail stores around Dalton.
Among the many cancellations brought on by the outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is football spring practice, which is normally allowed by the Georgia High School Association between Feb. 1 and the end of the school year in May. With social distancing guidelines in place and precious practice and conditioning time slipping away, area high school football teams have to get by without getting together.
“We specialize as coaches in creating adversity and obstacles that our teams need to overcome,” said Dalton High School football head coach Matt Land. “I don’t know that any of us could have foreseen what we’re doing right now. It’s like building an airplane while you’re flying it. You’re just responding to what the next issue is.”
For many coaches, that first issue was keeping players active and exercising without being able to meet with them.
“We’re sending out some workouts that they can do without getting around people, and ones that don’t need equipment,” said Josh Robinson, Northwest Whitfield High School’s head coach.
Dalton High was scheduled to begin spring practice last week. Teams could normally practice up to 10 times over 13 days, and many usually schedule a scrimmage with another school.
“There was a little bit of sadness that came up when my 3:45 alarm went off and we weren’t practicing,” Land said.
“This is the first time in 21 years that I haven’t been a part of a spring practice,” said Robinson. “It’s just really disappointing.”
One of the main functions of spring practice every year, Land said, is to evaluate players who are returning for open positions left by graduating seniors.
“It’s really identifying who your players are going to be,” he said. “You’ve got the guys that started last year, then you’ve got the guys that you think can help you, and you want to get them in and evaluate them. I think you lose the athletic identification and analysis part.”
Northwest will have to find replacements for eight graduating defensive starters and five starters on the offense.
“We have to make sure we do everything we can to evaluate them for those open positions,” Robinson said.
Also lost without spring practice is the conditioning gained by lining up and playing football for two weeks.
“What bothers me more is the weight training and conditioning aspect of it,” Robinson said. “Football takes a toll on your body, and you have to be in a certain condition. You just can’t get back seven or eight weeks of lost time.”
“At the high school level, you need every rep (repetition) you can get,” Land said. “By losing spring practice, you’re losing a lot. To a high school kid, that’s pretty dramatic.”
Robinson said he and his staff began working on scenarios for what preseason practice will entail once the players and coaches are finally able to meet together again. Several have already had to be eliminated.
“As a coach, you want to be over-prepared,” Robinson said. “About a week into quarantine, we started making plans for a return after spring break. Now, we’re hoping to get back in June. We have a July return and an August return plan, too. If we approach the middle of June, we may start looking at a September return.
“We’re all fighting on the same boat, so we just have to get by how we can.”