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Football programs must prepare without physicality

The resumption of summer athletic activities is fast approaching now that the Mississippi High School Activities Association announced guidelines for programs to restart on June 1. However, the uncertainty concerning what will be allowed in relation to holding practice sessions this summer has forced the leadership of local high school football programs to brainstorm on how to proceed.

Picayune Maroon Tide

Picayune is coming off a season that saw the team compete for a 5A state championship.

The preparation that had been scheduled to take place in order to get back to the championship game took a massive hit as COVID-19 flipped the world upside down.

Now things are opening back up and practices are set to start next week, but there’s still uncertainty around how a collision sport like football can properly practice with limited contact allowed between athletes.

Head Coach Cody Stogner said that while some athletes have been working out at home during the pandemic, there’s still a need to get the players into football shape.

“The next two weeks will be slow getting back out there and moving around. They need to get back. (There will be) a lot of stretching and doing some drills so we can slowly work our way back into shape,” Stogner said.

When it comes to determining how to restart practices in groups its rather simple for the Maroon Tide.

“Big guys” and “skill guys” are the two groups the team is divided into, then within those categories players are grouped by the amount of weight they maxed out on prior to the pandemic.

This allows players of similar size and strength to work together, which usually coincides with the players’ position on the field as well. Not only are these groupings beneficial because of the efficiency they provide when weight lifting, but they also serve a purpose for on field activities.

“It helps us out later in the summer because the skill guys are together whenever we’re able to do 7 on 7 (games) and the big guys are together when we get out and teach plays,” Stogner said.

The football team’s season was unaffected by the cancellation of sports by the MHSAA, but the team missed out on the spring period of practices. Those practices allow coaches to evaluate new talent in a practice setting.

But there is also a spring game the team usually plays to get some of the younger guys playing time in a competitive environment that was also missed. The loss of both aspects of the team’s offseason because of COVID-19 has forced the team to adapt to the new normal as it prepares for the upcoming season. “We’re going in sort of blind. The good thing is we have four non-district games (to start the season). We can sort it out there and do our best to win every game,” Stogner said.

Pearl River Central Blue Devils

The Blue Devils will power through the acclimation period with lighter workouts than normal.

Sessions will only be two hours long compared to last year’s three and a half hour long practices.

However, Head Coach Jacob Owen said that by the end of June his team is expected to be back to full speed practices. Owen said the early sessions will be mostly educational, teaching players about their responsibilities and the intricacies of the Blue Devils’ offensive and defensive set ups.

“We’re going to focus a lot on learning the first couple of weeks because we missed spring training, and we have a lot of guys who have to learn their job and what to do,” Owen said.