High school football coaches are expecting a return to normal this fall. But the pandemic season — which ended just months ago — still has teams grappling with the aftermath.
“Coaches are creatures of habit,” Prairie coach Mike Peck said. “We are still charting unnavigated waters.”
This summer, football is going to look a little different. Summer camps will be skipped, practices will remain contact-free until July and coaches will use the time to build excitement for a full fall schedule.
So far, the latter hasn’t been a problem for most teams.
“It’s actually been our best summer we’ve had since I’ve been a coach,” Peck said. “I’ve really been blown away by the attendance.”
Summer camp blues
Due to COVID-19 concerns, the first thing on the chopping block this summer was the traditional three-day summer camp. It is the second straight year most teams will go without a summer camp.
The camps — where teams would spend multiple days scrimmaging, watching film and training — are football’s biggest bonding experience.
Spending multiple days with teammates and going to the pool or the movies when not grinding on the gridiron has a way of bringing a group together. Late nights hanging out lead to deep conversations, where coaches and teammates get to know one another, La Center coach John Lambert said.
“It’s something difficult to replicate with girlfriends, parents and other friends nearby,” Lambert added.
Some teams are scheduling more scrimmages and 7-on-7 games locally to make up for the live-action component to most camps.
Coaches will still be able to get a feel for how players perform in game-like action. But at smaller schools like La Center, they may not have the same luxury.
“It’s tough, though, because there’s so many vacations,” Lambert said. “We’ll have one scrimmage. That’s the least we’ve ever had.”
Most teams typically have their most intense practices at the beginning of the summer season, once football is allowed to resume after Memorial Day. But this year, the WIAA limited programs to just 10 contact days during their summer training.
That made some coaches rethink when to use those days.
“We want to utilize those 10 days to the best of our ability,” Peck said. “We’re going to use that later part of July as our summer camp and get those padded practices and go against other teams.”
That delay will also help give players a bit more time to rest from the season that ended in April for 3A and 4A schools. Many players went on to play another sport, in which games were packed into a condensed time frame.
Avoiding burnout is key, even if the team is healthy coming out of the shortened 2020-21 football season,” Lambert said.
“We want them to value the time they have with us,” Lambert said. “We’re just doing three days a week, two hours each practice so it doesn’t drag on.”
Mountain View is taking perhaps the most unorthodox approach to the summer. Rather than doing traditional football practices this June, Adam Mathieson’s staff opted to treat the 2020-21 seven-game season as “spring ball”.
“We are into our traditional summer conditioning program at this point and do not have specific football practices,” Mathieson said.
Ready for fall
With a full season expected to start in September, the excitement level among players is at all-time high levels for this time of year, several coaches agreed.
At Columbia River, the Rapids are getting a consistent 45 players out to trainings, coach Brett Smedley said. Prairie is around 85-90.
“I think there’s a multitude of factors,” Peck said. “Some of the kids missed out on a lot last year and want to be part of it. Some of the returners are not happy with how the spring went and want to get better.”
The athletes are also more familiar with the systems, routines and verbiage with it still being so fresh in their mind, coaches agreed. That’s made it easy to focus on installing new packages and tuning up others.
By Aug. 18, when teams’ fall season officially begins, coaches expect things will go back to their normal flow.
Said Lambert: “I’m really hoping.”