Texas high school football takes first step back

Adam Coleman

More focus will be on instruction, caution and care than nailing the perfect squat rep when University Interscholastic League athletic programs return to in-person strength and conditioning training Monday.

Teams won’t be crawling, walking and then running through coronavirus-altered training this summer. North Shore football head coach Jon Kay said “we’re really going to be sitting first, then crawling and then walking and then jogging.”

They have no choice, considering the thorough safety precautions.

The UIL’s outlined requirements for in-person weight training and sport-specific skill instruction includes indoor workout facilities at a maximum 25 percent capacity. It means approximately 36 people — including coaches and athletes — will be allowed in Dickinson’s weight room. Masks and face coverings aren’t required by the UIL, but will be by Dickinson ISD inside buildings.

Social distancing measures of at least six feet are required and workouts stations will be at least 10 feet apart. It’s required some interior decoration in places like Cleveland, where football head coach Jason Fiacco said they’ve spaced out stations inside the current weight room and marked spots where players should stand during workouts.

“It’s going to be unlike any other lifting program anybody has really every devised,” Fiacco said.

The UIL is allowing one staff member per 20 athletes during workouts. Hand-sanitizing and washing stations are required and included in the process will be disinfecting every weight and bar before each use.

Pre-screening questionnaires and temperature checks will be a mainstay. Mayde Creek football coaches demonstrated the procedure in a video through the team Twitter account. Many programs have used Twitter or even Google Docs to inform athletes and parents of guidelines. Kay said one the key words this summer will be “creativity.”

Access to locker rooms and shower facilities will be prohibited. Shared food and water are, too, in what Fiacco said might be one of the more difficult changes for athletes. He’s requiring athletes to bring a gallon of their own water with their name written on it. Coaches referenced the common sight of a shared Gatorade bottle during practice now being a luxury.

Fiacco hopes coaches understand not every athlete was equipped to stay in shape through the spring when the UIL only allowed instruction and training through virtual means. Some athletes have a home gym in their garage and some relied on heavy water jugs in place of weights for the last three months.

Fiacco is one of at least 20 new football head coaches in the area, too, which adds another wrinkle for those still trying to get to know the athletes they will be coaching.

Liability forms have more language in them more than usual. Monday will be packed with registration forms for many programs with the next week or two spent on education and enforcing guidelines.

“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Kay said. “Our kids are such creatures of habit. Once we can establish those habits, the new normal, then I think our kids will actually fall in line and they’ll actually help us find ways to be more efficient in our movements and in the things that we can do.”

Coaches must be strict “because we’ve got to get this right,” Dickinson football coach John Snelson said. Coaches believe football in the fall hangs in the balance and more importantly, health of the athletes.

Kay mentions the University of Alabama, where reports say at least five football players tested positive for COVID-19 after a player-led workout session last week.

Teams will adapt on the fly, too. As Snelson said, “there is no playbook.” What happens if an athlete gets sick or someone a coach has been around is sick? What happens if a coach misses a session? What happens if participation numbers are larger than expected? All UIL teams regardless of sport can open training on Monday but football is usually a behemoth of a production. Snelson expects approximately 250 football players in Monday morning sessions for 9th through 12th grade alone.

The UIL requires participation to be optional. Snelson expects some parents will be eager for their son or daughter to be somewhere other than home. Some parents will be conservative, which is understandable.

It’s so far, so good for The Woodlands Christian Academy. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools allowed schools to return to in-person training June 1. TAPPS schools can devise its own guidelines, too, although TWCA football coach Randy Hollas said they are mostly following UIL guidelines. UIL schools can have spotters, though, and TWCA is fine avoiding that for now. The Warriors focus on Olympic-style weight training like power cleans more than bench pressing.

Coaches aren’t complaining about restrictions as long as it means in-person interaction among and with athletes, and even that suffers because of the guidelines.

Hugging, high-fiving and pats on the back are luxuries now, too. Kay doesn’t care. Neither is he concerned about missing 7-on-7 drills or who hits a new bench press max. Just the ability to get in front of athletes is enough.

Snelson said it’s part of everyday life taken for granted without the pandemic.

“It’s kind of like you never know what you have until you lose it,” Snelson said. “I think all of us just kind of tend to take that human element, that human touch, that fellowship piece, we don’t think about that near as much just on a day-to-day basis until it’s taken away from us.”



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