Fall sports moving to spring forces adjustments for players and coaches

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To accommodate having a season, high school football in North Carolina has been pushed back to late February and will only include a seven-game schedule. With voluntary workouts just starting a few weeks ago, coaches and players are trying to play catch-up after a lengthy delay due to COVID-19.

Coaches are notorious for having meticulous schedules, so having to adjust to the uncertainty of the season had to be nerve-racking. Even so, coaches are just happy their young men will be able to strap on the pad this season.

“I was ecstatic for these young men that deserve the opportunity to play their sport and end their high school career,” said Jay Blair, North Forsyth head football coach. “I was overjoyed at the feeling they felt. It wasn’t the fact I was able to coach, it was more about the joyous experience I felt through their joy.  

“It was good to know that we were going to be able to get back out there on the gridiron, because some of these young kings that have worked hard for almost four years now almost did not have the opportunity to finish out their careers the way they envisioned it.”

In a typical year, we are normally a few weeks into the varsity football season, so to have the season pushed back six months will change how coaches approach things. Also, many players play multiple sports, so that will leave little time for practice for those multi-sport athletes.

“It’s really not throwing anything off for me,” said Blair about his players participating in other sports. “Of course, you would want to have all the guys in your system for the whole time, but that is all coaches. I believe Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools system came out with a great plan for us. I know it’s shorter seasons with some crossover in there, but the way it’s set up, it will be fine.”

Varsity football will follow varsity basketball this season and Blair encourages his players that play basketball to do so. Blair is aware he will not have those guys to begin the practice sessions, but since he will have many of them during voluntary workouts, he isn’t worried about getting his players acclimated to his system.

“It does bring some challenges, but thanks to the leadership we have and the willingness of all us coaches to know and understand these players may be making a playoff push in another sport a week leading up to a football game and that’s fine,” Blair said.  

For Blair, one of the biggest issues is getting the incoming freshmen and those who have never played football up to speed. With the lack of summer workout sessions, these players missed out on a lot of instruction that is very important for preparation for the season.

“It presents the challenge of getting those new guys up to where they are understanding the concepts, where if you have the whole summer and you can do everything, but as of now we just have workouts to focus on,” he continued.  “You can do an install, but you are socially distanced apart. It makes you as a coach dig deeper in your bag and ability in working with those individuals and groups.

“Whereas we had a long time to get there before, we don’t have that long to do that, but we want to make sure we get those basics instilled in them. Once they get the basics in them, we can build through the season with those newer guys, because that is what you typically do anyway.”

With the threat of COVID-19 ever present, Blair says he has not seen a drastic dip in numbers from the kids that are coming out to the voluntary workouts. He said he is pleased with the turnout from his players thus far, especially since they have to adjust to social distancing guidelines.

One of the goals for Blair and his varsity football team was to win the conference. With only seven games on the schedule, it will make every game that much more important, especially since they are all conference games.

“As far as preparing and knowing what we have to face, that’s still the same as it was if the season was the regular deal,” he continued. “Our goals won’t change, and they are common goals a team should have to want to achieve. With our seven games, we want to become conference champions and make the playoffs.”

Blair says he understands the fears people are having about playing sports during the pandemic.  As a parent of student athletes, Blair is aware of the risks, but feels if proper precautions are taken, that will minimize the risks.

“My job is to make sure that they are as safe as possible, while they are doing things that are important to them,” Blair said about protecting his kids and players while they play sports. “That’s my point of view and I understand both side as a parent and a coach.”

Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools have put protocols in place to make sports as safe as possible. For example, there is a limit to how many kids can attend workouts. Also, players and coaches stay with the same groups to limit the chance of cross-contamination from others.  Before the kids and coaches get to the field, they are required to have their temperatures taken, wear masks and answer questions about their exposure or non-exposure to COVID-19. Players also enter and exit from different paths to additionally minimize risk. Hand sanitizer is available, and players have to bring their own water as well. All of these measures were implemented to make the environment as safe as possible.

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