Football players taking advantage of extended preseason

5f7e55cfdae56.imageA 100 percent virtual classroom experience is not how Clarke County tight end and defensive tackle Wynn Morris wanted to spend his senior year.

Thanks to athletics, however, Morris still manages to get to see some of the people he actually goes to school with in the flesh.

“Going to football is kind of the highlight of my day,” said Morris in a phone interview. “It’s not really a fun experience sitting at a computer all day. It’s nice to able to go out, exercise and see my teammates, and get into the sport that I love so much.”

Official football practice won’t start for Virginia High School League football teams until Feb. 4, but teams are doing what they can until then.

Phase III guidelines are still in effect for VHSL athletes, which means physical distancing and no contact drills for all sports. Football players can use balls right now as part of skill development. But a lot of emphasis is being placed on conditioning and strength training with the start of official practice still four months away.

“Our kids have been awesome,” said Clarke County football coach Casey Childs of the team’s offseason workouts. “They obviously want to play, but they’re excited and they’re happy to be [at workouts]. We’ve had great turnouts.

“When we’re there with the kids, it’s fun. We’re not yelling, screaming. I think we’re handling it the right way as coaches by trying to make it as fun as possible.”

Each of the five schools — part of three school divisions — began classes on Sept. 8. All three divisions are offering varying degrees of reduced in-person learning or 100 percent online classes.

At Clarke County, the Eagles have four two-hour training sessions per week. The bigger players like linemen and tight ends come in on Mondays and Wednesdays while the skill position players come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each Monday-Wednesday and Tuesday-Thursday group is divided into older and younger players. One group works in the weight room while the other does individual drills on the field, then they switch halfway through.

In an ideal world, Clarke County would have been preparing to avenge last year’s 35-34 Bull Run District loss to Luray this week. But the Eagles are making the most of the situation at hand.

“We’re teaching a lot of our pull steps for our linemen and working a lot on footwork with our backs,” Childs said. “We’re doing a lot of formation stuff with kids apart. We can use a ball in Phase 3. We toss it around a little bit. We don’t do any handoffs because we’d be too close together at that point. We can work on our passing tree. I told my linebackers we’re getting better at moving and doing what we’re trying to do.

“We’re teaching everything that we teach early in the year, but now we get to spend a lot more time on it. We have the kids spaced out, and we have more time to really truly concentrate on it. Like I told the players, once we get going, the season starts coming 100 miles an hour, and you’re game-planning and you’re getting ready for your next opponent, and you just run out of time during the day to do a lot of drill work. We’re getting a lot of stuff done.”

Morris anticipates the work that Clarke County is doing now will pay off once the actual season starts.

“We have an opportunity to get back to basics and making sure our fundamentals are really, really solid this year,” he said. “We’re getting extra time in the weight room. I think it’s going to benefit us in the long term because we’re having a lot of new guys step up. Everyone’s learning their position, everyone’s getting strong. And I think the coaches have done a really good job at organizing our practice schedule with weight room time and individual drill stuff.”

The Eagles are making the sessions more enjoyable for their players through competitions. For example, Childs said at the end of last week’s practice, the linemen and linebackers had to pick one person from each of those two groups to see how far they can push the team’s Prowler sled down the field (once their feet stopped or something like a knee hit the ground, they weren’t allowed to push any farther). The winning team got to choose what exercise the losing team had to do to end practice.

“The kids were all getting into cheering for one another,” Childs said. “It was a lot of fun.”

“We’re pushing teammates and encouraging our teammates in a little friendly competition,” Morris said.

At Handley, where students attend school two days per week, Judges coach Dan Jones said the team has about 55 to 60 players working out three days per week who use the weight room, gym and outdoor facilities. Jones said the Judges do throw footballs around some, but the team is mainly lifting and conditioning.

Jones said one byproduct of the COVID-19 restrictions is that the team is more efficient with their workouts now.

“I’ve reevaluated how we do things,” Jones said. “Some of the things the way we do now, I’ll probably stay with forever. We’ve got 60 kids with small groups, and we get after it for about 45 minutes with each session. We’re getting bigger and stronger. The kids understand they have to stay 10 feet apart and understand we have a short period of time. We don’t have kids goofing off and resting between reps. We’re just going from one exercise to the next.

“Our conditioning is part of our functional lifts. Very rarely do we just run sprints. When we’re in the weight room, we’re just going from one lift to the next without a break.”

Jones said the coaches are keeping the players on task by reminding them that the workouts they’re doing are what they’d ordinarily do during the summertime.

“We didn’t get to do what we really wanted to do this summer,” Jones said. “So we’re just doing our summer workout, and tell them not to think about [the regular season]. Just take advantage of the situation. Don’t look at the negatives. Look at all the positives. We’ve just got to move forward and take what we can get.”

 

Football players at Frederick County schools are getting to experience something different this fall through their participation in the Frederick County Parks & Recreation 7v7 Passing League. Players from James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando hold joint competitive practices with each other twice each in this format.

Outside of that though, Frederick County football players are spending most of the time working out without a football.

At James Wood, the Colonels work out after school four days a week, with the players participating on the days they’re actually in school and not learning online. Players lift weights one day a week, and the second day for each player features a combination of weightlifting, 7-on-7 drills, and individual work for linemen.

“The 7 on 7 [in practice] is a little bit difficult because our quarterbacks are there are one day, and our receivers are mostly there on another day,” James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said. “We have to make do with what we have on those particular days. Sometimes those receivers have to deal with me throwing to them instead of somebody who’s actually good. The linemen, we have some upperclassmen who are kind of taking the lead and leading the guys through some footwork.”

Morgan feels the players are enjoying themselves. He said new players have come out for the program in part because some of them lost a chance to compete for a spring sports team because of COVID-19 cancellations.

“I think some of them are just getting antsy for competition, so they’re just kind of exploring a new sport, and trying out football,” Morgan said.

“I think the biggest thing [with workouts] is just getting the kids out there and giving them a little bit of organization, letting them get to know their teammates and have fun with their teammates,” Morgan said. “I think the kids have really missed that. School is a lot different as far as smaller class sizes, and it’s harder to communicate as far as wearing masks. It’s just nice to see the kids get out there, have a little bit of fun, and relax a little bit.”

Naturally, James Wood junior running back and linebacker Joey Vitola said he’d prefer if the entire team could get together on the same day, but he feels the sessions are going well.

“We’ve been showing great teamwork the whole year so far,” Vitola said.

Since school started, Millbrook and Sherando have been using similar training programs that focus on general speed, quickness, agility, plyometrics and strength training. The exercises are not sport-specific, as athletes are working in a circuit-style program with coaches throughout the athletic department, not just their own coaches. Athletes participate the two days a week that they attend school. The programs are for eight weeks, and beginning Nov. 2 athletes will start training with their own teams.

Millbrook coach Josh Haymore feels like the program has gone well.

“I think all the kids all-around have done a great job,” Haymore said. “I think they’re really enjoying it, because it’s a chance to get to know some of the players on the other teams that you didn’t know. It’s a chance for all coaches to work with every player and athlete from the school. It’s been really good.

“And the coaches are working with new people. I never get to work with any other sports besides football. It’s pretty neat to run drills and see the different aspects of coaching that every coach has.”

Millbrook sophomore quarterback Detric Brown said, “We get to work out with the whole school, and there’s a real togetherness about it.”

On Monday, Sherando football coach Bill Hall said his players hadn’t worked with a football since participating in the first 7-on-7 session on Sept. 30.

Hall feels Sherando’s approach to the condensed 2020-21 sports year has been a good one.

“Most importantly, you have to get your athletes back in a position where they’re not prone to injury,” Hall said. “I think that’s the biggest thing research points to. After time off, injury increases. We were trying to make sure that we do a good job as a school and as a staff, making sure that our athletes, when we do actually get to start participating, that they’re healthy.

“It doesn’t do us any good to be out practicing four days a week if we’re not going to play until February. It’s about making sure our athletes are safe.”

Sherando junior quarterback Dylan Rodeffer said expanding the team’s workout regimen has been beneficial.

“We’ve done some basketball workouts that have helped with football and agility,” Rodeffer said. “We’re working on being overall very mobile.”

Hall said the participation has been excellent in Sherando’s athletic department after-school program, with 70 to 80 athletes participating each day.

“We’re always a school that has the philosophy of, ‘Focus on what you can control,’” Hall said. “They don’t control setbacks and things that pop up, it’s always about how do you respond to those situations. That doesn’t make it easy, but it helps them refocus on the things that they can directly impact each day. I think the participation numbers we have points to engagement and those kids just wanting to invest in the process. They’re focusing on the things they can control.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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