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High school football season growing shorter as coaches begin focusing on potential later start

BY LOREN KOPFF • @LORENKOPFF ON TWITTER

January 15, 2021

The second week of the CIF-Southern Section football season would have been tonight. Instead, the reality of no high school football in California for the remainder of the month and well into February is setting in for those involved.

The latest youth sports guidelines were released by the California Department of Public Health this past Tuesday and to no surprise, all but four counties in the state remain in the purple tier. Once this month is over, four football games will have been lost with up to six regular season games still up in the air. As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise, there are mixed opinions as to if there will be any high school football games before the early part of April, which is when the divisional championship games are slated to be played.

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Conditioning for the fall sports began on Nov. 2 and at Cerritos High, the Dons were doing that for four and a half weeks, according to first-year head coach Brad Carter, before the state shut down youth activities last month. He said the team was conditioning Monday through Thursday and there were 50-60 players a day getting in shape for what they thought would be a complete 2020-2021 football season.

“It was tough getting them cleared and everything, but we had a really good turnout,” Carter said. “And then unfortunately in December we had to shut down again because of the threat of the virus. We went back to virtual training…and we’ve been doing that since the first week of December, sending the kids workouts. We meet with the kids twice a week on Zoom. So, that’s kind of where we’re at.”

When there was conditioning, Carter said that there was a lot of enthusiasm amongst the players and they, along with the coaches, were excited about the possibility of playing this winter. He added that since the recent shutdown, the coaching staff and players tried to stay positive.

“Obviously, they understand the situation,” he continued. “Everything the coaches have been voicing to them is stay ready for our time. We don’t know when that time is; nobody knows. Hopefully, it’s February or March. If not, hopefully by August at the latest. But we’re not really trying to predict the future. We’re just staying ready as we can until we get the green light.”

Carter, who like other coaches have had to change their own calendars multiple times since July, is hopeful that the middle of February will signal the return to conditioning, then practice, followed by the games. The CIF-SS pinned March 12 as the last date for regular season football games with the playoffs beginning the following week and the divisional championships slated for April 9 and 10. There won’t be any state championship bowl games this season.

Carter said he is adjusting his calendar to what he ‘hopes will happen’, but at the same time not plan too far ahead since everything is still up in the air and things have been changing on a week to week mode.

“We’ve already been told by [the ABC Unified School District] we’re in virtual conditioning until January 31 at the earliest,” Carter said. “Right now, it’s kind of a week to week operation. That came out last week. I know we’re not doing anything on campus in the month of January. I’ll be shocked if we do it the first couple of weeks of February.”

Since the CIF-SS is not going to change the ending dates of the fall season and the beginning dates of the spring season, Carter believes that the CIF-SS might eliminate the four-week playoff period to allow schools the opportunity of playing more games if the first game isn’t until March. The 605 League is scheduled to play only three games this season-Feb. 26, Mar. 5 and Mar. 12.

Artesia High head football coach Don Olmstead and his staff would have spent this past week preparing for tonight’s home opener against Chino High. Although he is frustrated that he can’t see the players in person, he indicated that he tries to remind the players that there is a bigger picture that can’t be overlooked.

“There are people who are losing loved ones; that have loved ones in hospitals that they can’t see that are going to die,” he said. “There’s a lot bigger picture than just the game of football.”

While Olmstead admitted that he misses being out there running around and see the season he thought the Pioneers would have, the school has seen quite a few kids get sick. He added that those kids are doing well now and are fine, but it could have been a scary time back then.

Olmstead said when the pandemic broke out last spring, he didn’t think COVID-19 was here because he didn’t really know anybody who had it. Now, it’s a different story when he sees students and/or their families get it as it hits a little deeper.

“I still want to play; I still think our kids need to play,” Olmstead said. “I just don’t know when that is going to be. All those things that we thought were going to happen might have to be pushed back just because we’re not in a good place right now from any aspect of playing football.”

Since conditioning was shut down last month, Olmstead has been having the players breaking down college and the NFL games, just like ESPN’s and former NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning breaks down what Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills does.

“It kind of gives the kids a different perspective that even the guys in the NFL are still doing the same stuff we’re doing,” Olmstead said. “The first play they run, they run zone and it’s the same play we run. I’ve been trying to connect that so the kids can have something to relate too and maybe have a little more knowledge watching the game than they did two months ago. [This past Tuesday] we watched a replay of the [NCAA] National Title game from last night.”

Olmstead is hoping that the Pioneers would be able to get at least the three league games in with the best case scenario being five or six games, depending on what the CIF-SS wants to do with the playoffs, or no playoffs. The worst case scenario would be the obvious-that there wouldn’t be a football season at all. He added that while he has not heard of the possibility that the CIF-SS would slightly alter its football calendar, he finds it hard to imagine that they haven’t thought of that.

During the summer, John Glenn High first-year head coach David Cruz predicted that the 2020 high school football season would not even happen. The way that it’s looking now, Cruz might be spot on with that prediction. The Eagles would have visited Long Beach Cabrillo High tonight before hosting two straight games, including the Mayor’s Cup tilt with city rival Norwalk High on Jan. 29. As of now, that won’t happen.

“I guess I could see the writing on the walls,” Cruz said of his prediction. “I knew that we weren’t going to get through this anytime soon. They were talking about the numbers going up and I could see it. I really thought that maybe in March, we might have a chance to play sports. But, if you’re looking at where we’re at now and how many cases and how many deaths…I was telling my wife [this past Monday] I can’t believe how many people on Facebook start off their posts with, “I say this with a heavy heart”. Since Facebook has been created, I’ve never seen so many people passing as I have this last month.”

Cruz, who is also one of the school’s two athletic directors, acknowledges that everyone wants sports to start, but he doesn’t think we’re anywhere near to that happening. He pointed out that David Clifton, the athletic director at Oxford Academy, told the other 605 League athletic directors that the Anaheim Union High School District, in which Oxford Academy is a part of, won’t allow any of its schools to conduct any conditioning until every zip code in the district falls below 10 percent. Right now, that figure is way above 25 percent. Clifton also told the league athletic directors that he’s doubting whether or not that they will be able to practice in July.

Cruz continued by saying that the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District is following what the other nearby school districts are doing and that it isn’t going to be the first to jump into anything.

Besides football, the first league event for the other fall season sports are as follows: boys and girls cross country (Jan. 27), girls volleyball (Jan. 29 for the second round) and boys water polo (Feb. 2).

“Of the AD’s we’re talking about, we’re more optimistic about cross country,” Cruz said. “But you get into a pack; what kind of starting line are we going to have to have if we do compete? Are we going to have to shuttle them off to the side after they finish because they have to have social distancing? I just don’t know if we’re going to be able to put that together in time. I just don’t see it happening.”

As it relates to Glenn’s football program, Cruz said it’s tough being limited to Zoom just because of all the difficulties the teachers are experiencing. The same is happening with the football players and he continued by saying there’s no guarantee the players are going to be on their cameras and you can’t see all the players’ cameras. He calls the situation an uphill battle.

Through the classes and the Zoom sessions, Cruz tries to find at least one motivating factor in the class and treat it as a normal classroom situation. He’s been teaching the players the X’s and O’s, strategies and basic fundamentals.

“I’m trying to get my guys to understand the game of football, so when we get out there, the only thing that we’ll have to do is condition them,” Cruz said. “I’m sure most of the coaches are doing that. But it’s an uphill battle because you have to focus on one thing, and it can’t be physical. These kids are getting so weak because they can’t touch a weight.”

Cruz went as far as taking a survey with just his team and a handful of them have any type of weight equipment or access to them. So, the majority of the team have been doing body weight-type exercises and running.

Another problem facing Glenn stems in the numbers department. Even though Cruz has just over 40 players in his football class, the school does not have a big enrollment and a lot of the football players are active in other sports. Cruz says that if they begin practice, he is sure he will have more students. However, because of the condensed athletic seasons for the 2020-2021 year, baseball, basketball and wrestling, for example, will begin their seasons right at the end of the football season, if there is one. Cruz is concerned that if football were to start up in the beginning of March, he may lose many players to the spring sports because most of the football players are involved in other spring sports.

“I was telling [co-athletic director] Linda [Parra] that I think, at Glenn, since it’s a small school, we may have to concentrate on some of those other sports that we can compete in,” Cruz said. “Because, if they decide to have all the sports, Glenn is going to have to pick and choose which sports we’re going to have.”

Today, a slew of high schools throughout the state will be participating in what is called the ‘Let Them Play’ rally in hopes of sending a message to state officials to reopen youth sports in the state sooner than later. Carter, Cruz and Olmstead have all indicated that their schools/football programs will not participate in the rally.

“Like I said, I think my kids have a little different perspective on this stuff because some of them have [COVID-19] and we’ve talked about it,” Olmstead said. “So, I think they kind of know the realization and how serious it can get. I don’t think we would participate in that.”

“As a school, there’s no way Linda or I will ever promote that,” Cruz said. “Now, whether or not the kids get involved in that, that’s something different. But we’re not trying to spearhead or steer kids for that. It’s against my beliefs anyway. To me, it’s kind of selfish. I can understand students that are juniors and seniors that have been waiting their entire life to play high school football and now they’re not given the opportunity. But not when I’m seeing so many people pass away.”

Carter said he received an email last week about the rally and the football team has joined one Facebook movement. Other online movements have been the Golden State High School Football Coaches Association, which is a statewide movement, and a Southern California High School Football Coaches Association.

“There are a few movements that me and my coaching staff have been joining,” Carter said. “We’re also trying to get our players and families involved. We’re not doing an organized rally ourselves. I know there’s a really big rally [today] at the capital in Sacramento and I know they’re trying to really organize an organized movement that route.”

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