As of right now, the Mississippi High School Activities Association is still holding to a June 1 date for the resumption of activities. MHSAA leadership is scheduled to meet and reevaluate the situation on Thursday, and the hope is that they will give member schools some definite answers.
Even though school is out of session, June is always a very busy and important month on the high school athletics calendar. Baseball, basketball, softball, and volleyball play organized summer league games against other schools to try to develop. It is certainly important for every sport. However, summer is arguably even more critical for those began in August- cross country, volleyball and football. Summer is the time when the foundation for cross country success is built. Obviously, football is a very physical sport where an effective strength and conditioning regiment is an important ingredient, and that takes time to accomplish. This year the summer will be especially critical. Due to the outbreak shutting down school in March, it will be close to three months since any team has had organized workouts if the target date of June 1 is met.
Pontotoc County's three head football coaches have over 80 years of combined coaching experience, and like most of us, they have not experienced anything like the current situation. When things kick back up, each coaching staff will have to navigate challenges due to the impacts the virus has had on the team-building process.
All of them are anticipating the possibility of restrictions on the number of attendees at summer weight room sessions.
"There may be couple of scenarios, whether they only let us have so many at a time or the whole team," said South Pontotoc head coach Rod Cook. "So we have worked up a schedule for any part of that that may happen. We are going to have 60 or 70 kids, so if we can only have 10 at a time it will make for a long day. But we can stagger our coaches instead of all of us being there."
"I would imagine I'm like a lot of guys in that I've two or three plans for each what-if, and I'm ready to pull the trigger on one depending on what they choose to do," said North Pontotoc coach Andy Crotwell. "It may be something like splitting them up to only have the number you are allowed inside and outside at once, or of course the other option is to have different start times and sign up for the one you want."
"If we able to do anything that's better than nothing," said Pontotoc High School head coach Jeff Carter. "I'm sure there are going to be some guidelines. We will adhere to any they put out. We are anticipating June 1 with 10 people inside and 20 outside (the governor's current guidelines on gatherings of people). That's kind of what we are gearing towards."
The bottom line is that nobody knows precisely until the organization announces it. It is fluid, like everything else with COVID-19.
Weight room gains evaporate quickly. With all the lost workout time this spring, player safety will be especially important.
"Just as a safety precaution we are going to have to have an extra slow start from a conditioning and weight room standout," coach Crotwell said. "Whenever they give us the all clear, we are going to have to spend at least the first two weeks or so just trying to get guys back into weight room shape as far as being able to make it through a workout without running out of steam. Then we can begin what would be closer to our normal summer workouts. It is going to be especially critical, not only for the benefit of our football team but also for the safety of our players, to have good summer attendance. Guys that haven't done a whole lot, it is going to be especially difficult for them come August, even moreso than it is normally."
Football only has a certain amount of practice time each year in pads, and the loss of spring practice will change somewhat how preseason camp looks in August.
"The way I've always done it is for the most part the fall is for getting the guys into shape and execution," Crotwell said. "Obviously there are exceptions and guys sometimes develop a lot over the summer, but the time to be seen and make a name for yourself is in the spring. That will have to be adjusted some. You will have to, as much as you can, compress spring into that first little bit of fall camp."
There has been some discussion about extending preseason practice in the fall to make up for the loss of spring. The MHSAA mentioned the possibility in its press release announcing spring practice had been canceled.
Additionally, summer 7-on-7 camps provide valuable extra reps and build confidence for skill positions players. The future of that is uncertain as well. Crotwell was planning on making some adjustments to his offensive system, so getting that work in, whether or not it is against other programs, will be key.
"A fair portion of the tweaks revolve around the passing game, so whether we do 7-on-7 amongst ourselves or compete against other teams we need to do it one way or another, if it is allowed," Crotwell said.
Cook hired a new offensive coordinator this offseason, as Bert Ashley joined the program. South has a plus in that veteran quarterback Eli Allen is back, but there still will be a process of transition.
"I think it was what was best for the program. We are going to be putting in new plays and the terminology will be different. So that puts us even further behind," Cook said. "It's the same offense, but it will be called different things."
"I think 7-on-7 is probably out," Carter said. "I think it is going to be more practicing with each other and trying to make up for lost time. We have to get them caught back up, try to get weight on the ones that need it and get weight off others. If we start back June 1 that's plenty of time to get what we need done. The only difference of course is that we have never had this big of a layoff. I think everyone will be excited about coming back and getting back to work."