Canyon head football coach Blake Bryant wears a mask during practice to help ensure safety for his team during the opening day of fall workouts Monday. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]It’s an unprecedented time in the world right now but in the state of Texas on Monday a sense of normalcy fell back into place.
Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic the University Interscholastic League allowed Class 4A to Class 1A teams across the state to open fall football workouts as planned.
There is no game-plan for how each week will be handled, there isn’t a guarantee that the season, which starts Aug. 28 will go off without a hitch. However, the coaches and players are relishing the opportunity to be back on the field with a driving goal of a season in mind for the first time since the shutdown in March.
“Now that we’re out here practicing it doesn’t feel different at all,” said Canyon football coach Blake Bryant, who enters his 20th season leading the Eagles program. “We have that same excitement of starting the season, and it’s a blast.”
The UIL has done a terrific job of working with the coaches around Texas. They’ve listened and tried not to punish areas with low COVID-19 numbers. But within any hour, any day, any week the UIL has the authority to pull the plug if coronavirus concerns don’t improve. That was made obvious during summer strength and conditioning after allowing coaches and student-athletes to reconcile as of June 8.
“We preach to the players all the time that they can’t control everything,” Bushland first-year head coach Josh Reynolds said. “So we want them to control what they can. All we know is we can be out here practicing. That’s what we focus on. We have to get better every time we step on the field. We can’t guarantee a tomorrow so let’s take advantage of the chances we get”
Last March thousands of senior athletes in the Lone Star State had their athletic careers come to a screeching halt when the United States shutdown as COVID-19 ramped up. In an unheard of situation, that happened as fast as a pen dropping, seniors didn’t get a chance at going back to school, competing for state championships, or walking across a stage in-front of their loved ones at graduation.
The incoming seniors witnessed their friends dismay first-hand. Though heartbroken, they don’t want to see a repeat this year. So in a first time sight Monday, coaches and players united by wearing masks, while taking every precaution to give themselves a shot at living out their season goals.
“We feel extremely blessed,” Canyon wide receiver and senior-to-be Jack McKay said. “I know how serious the situation is with COVID. Our coaches and Canyon’s administration has taken this very serious. Our coaches and the UIL have given us a chance. We want to follow those rules.”
Though nothing is certain. Though there may not be a tomorrow for these small school teams. In a “coach speak” cliche, everyday is a chance to improve. Everyday is a chance to be together. And everyday is a chance to feel normal.
“We talk to our guys each and everyday. We try and give them guidance,” River Road football coach Bryan Welps said. “We tell them we are going to be with them every step of the way. But most importantly we want them to know that we are with them through this and to trust us.”