The first official day of high school football practice in Iowa is next week.
Players and coaches have an early chance to get acclimated to a season impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Programs are holding preseason football camps this week, introducing the procedures and guidelines set to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The workouts began Monday and last through Friday.
The practice field was a welcome sight for many.
“I told our guys that was as good a first day of camp as I’ve ever been around in terms of execution, enthusiasm and just desire to be back,” Marion Coach Tim Lovell said. “Kids are just glad to be out. They want to get back. We want to do everything we can to make that happen.”
An air of excitement surrounded some area practice fields as players participate in organized activities for the first time in months, even though baseball completed its season.
“Relieved and anxious,” Cedar Rapids Jefferson Coach Chris Buesing said about his players’ feelings. “Just thank goodness we can go out, play and do some stuff.”
Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Brian White said players held workouts on their own during the spring. They built a bond during that down time and it showed when the actual camp began.
“We had a two-hour workout,” White said. “It flew and everybody was hopping around and smiling. They were happy to be playing football and being together. We have a pretty good group, so I think they’re happy to have an opportunity to do some things.”
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Programs started instituting protocols that will be used during the season. Players will be asked to answer a series of questions, including how they feel and daily temperature. If a player answers a certain way or doesn’t answer, they will be flagged and will meet with a coach and trainer to see how to proceed.
Equipment will be regularly sanitized. Players will have to supply and drink their own water. Social distancing will be emphasized whenever possible in a contact sport.
“We try to practice social distance, but it’s hard in this sport,” White said. “We talk to the kids constantly about not spitting, quarterbacks not licking their fingers and that’s tough because they’ve done it their whole lives. It is training and learning. We’re trying to teach them a new way to play football.”
Each team implemented some different aspects for mitigation. Jefferson’s camp split freshman, sophomore and varsity groups. Players had helmets on, while at least one coach wore a face covering.
“We are spread out for our warmup more than we would be normally,” Buesing said. “It gives them space and run through things. Whenever we’re not doing football specific stuff, then we’re spaced out.”
Kennedy issued face coverings for all of its players. They had them on during drills when they were face-to-face with other players. White was heard reminding players to “mask up” and calling for managers to clean pads and other equipment with disinfectant.
White said they have also structured practice to limit players’ exposure to one another.
“We make sure none of our segments are under 15 minutes,” White said. “It’s part of what the CDC advises.”
Lovell said players will take equipment home daily, team meals are a thing of the past and the freshman and sophomore team will have a travel squad.
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Marion also spaced out players for warmups and split players into seven small position groups for the workout.
“Our AD Mike Manderscheid said our goal is to compete and complete the season,” Lovell said. “He couldn’t be more right. We’re taking steps and measures to try and ensure that.”
The camp has allowed coaches to put changes into effect. Lovell said he met with staff via Zoom during the shutdown and refined what and how they do things. It was a chance to “simplify and congeal” their approach.
“Yesterday (Monday) and today (Tuesday) have been an absolute masterpiece,” Lovell said. “I’ve been completely blown away.”
White and Buesing both mentioned that the differences occur before and after practice. Once all of the steps are complete to monitor, sanitize and prep for practice, the game remains the same.
“Football is football,” White said. “What we do now in between is so much different.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be successful. I don’t know if we’re going to play a full season, but we’re trying. We’re trying because baseball and softball showed us the way.”
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