After not having direct access to their athletes for nearly three months due to the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia prep football coaches might think they’ve hit the jackpot.
Not only are coaches in many counties planning on holding their traditional three-week summer practice period following the Fourth of July weekend, but the Secondary School Activities Commission has given them an unprecedented four more weeks to ease their players into that three-week session.
Last Friday, the SSAC announced a three-phase plan to get prep athletes in all sports back in shape heading into the July 6-25 practice period, which is the session time selected by most southern counties, including Kanawha, Putnam, Lincoln, Logan, Jackson and Wayne. Cabell and Mingo counties opted for July 13-31.
Phase one, which starts Monday and runs through June 19, allows coaches to meet with pods of 10 or fewer players for one hour per day, and the meetings must be held outdoors. The initial workouts will focus on conditioning, strength training and agility, and cannot be sports-specific. Still, that’s music to the ears of football coaches like Riverside’s Alex Daugherty.
“We’re excited to get back with the kids,’’ Daugherty said Tuesday. “We’ll do whatever the procedures call for. Hopefully, we’ll have a good turnout. Hopefully, we’ll need a lot of coaches because that means we’ll have a lot of kids.
“It’s different than what we’re used to in the weight room, but we can definitely make that work and take equipment outside as needed.’’
Kanawha County Schools, however, hasn’t given the green light to phases one and two of the SSAC’s extended workout plan just yet. Each county’s Board of Education has been given the freedom to decide when practices can resume. Assistant Superintendent Mark Milam said in an email Tuesday evening that Superintendent Ron Duerring is meeting with school principals on Wednesday to discuss the matter.
Daugherty, who begins his third season with the Warriors, last year took the program to its first Class AAA playoff berth since 2007. He’s more than willing to abide by the SSAC’s strict guidelines, which were formed with the help of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
In phase two of the SSAC plan, up to 25 players at a time will be permitted to participate for up to two hours per session with coaches. Indoor practices are allowed, but outdoor meetings are recommended. Again, no sports-specific activities can take place and, as with phase one, face masks are encouraged for coaches and athletes except during high-intensity training. Disinfectants and hand sanitizer must be available on site.
“To me, it’s a unique way of doing things,’’ Daugherty said, “having different pods and creating different activities for the kids to do. We had a staff meeting last night and were talking about different ways and options we have. To me, coaching is all about adapting to what’s taking place.’’
Some of the biggest changes for football teams to the annual three-week practice period — which encompasses phase three of the SSAC plan — are that no 7-on-7 passing tournaments can be held between schools and football players will not be permitted to wear equipment or make body to body contact. Daugherty is on board with that, too.
“Whatever it takes for us to have fall sports for the kids,’’ he said. “It was hard enough for our senior athletes who didn’t get to play spring sports this year, and I’d hate for there to be a trickle-down effect. We’ll follow all the guidelines as necessary. If we’re not as strong or as in shape as we usually are, then so be it. We’ll find a way to get the kids ready [for the regular season].
“I strongly encourage coaches to do the right thing, then kids can have a football season, and the season can go on like normal.’’
Advantage, experienceA pair of Putnam County coaches pointed to situations where a limited three-week period might bring benefits for some teams or roadblocks for others.
Buffalo’s Brian Batman counted up his returning players earlier this spring and said the Bison have starters back at 19 of 22 positions on offense and defense.
“Some of them are the same kids,’’ Batman said, “but thankfully, I’ve got a veteran team coming back. As far as our base things, most of the kids know what we’re doing offensively and defensively, so [an altered three-week period] won’t have as negative an impact on us as it would have the last few years.
“But if you were going to use the summer period to do some installation and go over some new things you want to work on?’’
Winfield coach Craig Snyder said it’s definitely not the year for any program to overhaul what it’s been doing on either side of the ball.
“People who were thinking of making major changes offensively or defensively are maybe less likely to do that now,’’ Snyder said. “That puts a premium on us to figure things out — it challenges coaches more.’’
Level turfSouth Charleston coach Donnie Mays is glad to be getting FieldTurf installed at his team’s facility for the coming season, and even though he doesn’t think it necessarily increases a team’s speed, he knows it can eliminate games where field conditions dictate a team’s approach.
“I can recall the game in 2009 when we played Capital at Oakes Field,’’ Mays said of the grass surface there, “and it rained so bad. They beat us 8-6 and it was the worst field conditions I’ve ever seen. Stuff like that takes over a game and it changes your dynamic.
“Here in today’s world, 70 percent of the teams are running out of the shotgun [formation] and you snap the ball with thick mud, and it changes the dynamics of what you’re trying to do offensively. [Artificial turf] makes for a better outcome, more realistic. It’s not where weather controls the outcome of a game.’’
Mays pointed out that all 10 of SC’s regular-season games will be played on fake grass this year — if all teams’ installations are completed this summer. The Black Eagles have road games at St. Albans, George Washington, Parkersburg, Huntington and Woodrow Wilson.
COVID-19 concernsFirst-year Martinsburg coach Britt Sherman gets a bit anxious when he looks at the schedules for some Eastern Panhandle teams, including his own, which are dotted with games against teams from out-of-state schools where COVID-19 has been more prevalent.
“We have four out-of-state schools and Jefferson has five,’’ Sherman said. “We have three from Virginia and one from D.C. and they have [four from Virginia and one from Maryland].
“What happens if they say we can play, but the other schools can’t? Does that mean we only play six games and [Jefferson] five? That’s something I worry about.’’