Right now high school football players all across the country are being asked to do their least favorite part of practice — conditioning. The challenge moving forward for coaches is keeping practices fun and not burning athletes out on these conditioning drills.
Ever since the IHSA received approval from the IDPH to announce its Return to Play Guidelines in early June, the majority of coaches had designed specific practice schedules that ran until June 26th when Illinois entered Phase 4 of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.
Football programs like Carbondale still remain in Stage 1, which restricts teams from being able to use any equipment during practices. The only equipment allowed are athletic shirts and shorts with a protective mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of frustration and unknown for all of us right now, but these kids need this,” said Terriers coach Bryan Lee. “We know very well that this might just be volunteer work if there ends up being no season at all. If there’s no season then coaches don’t get paid, which they shouldn’t, and that’s not the school’s fault.
“Kids just need to be out of the house and be around other kids. If this summer is about reaching out and doing social work with kids then there are much worse things we could be doing.”
If there is a season to be played, Lee feels like this Terriers team might have a leg up on other competition with 16 returning starters. So far, 35 out of the expected 36 Terriers have made it back to practice in “not terrible shape” according to Lee.
“It’s felt great being out of the house because we’ve been hoping for a football season,” said senior cornerback Tyshawn Leasure. “It hasn’t been the same without a football, but as long as we’re out here together then that’s all that matters...everything will fall into place.”
In order to reduce the spread of coronavirus players have been split up into four pods of nine players with one coach. Once a player is assigned to a pod they are not allowed to switch. This has proved to be a blessing and a curse for the way Lee usually likes to run his practices.
“Younger kids are getting way more individual coaching during all of this and we see that as a silver lining of hitting this reset button,” said Lee. “I want to keep a similar model moving forward in order to get the best out of our younger guys.”
One obstacle Lee and his staff have come across is when they discover that a player needs a position change. Considering each pod is split up into groups with similar skill sets, it’s impossible for coaches to put a kid into a new group.
The Terriers have doubled up on team practices with the first session running from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and a second one shortly after from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m.. Practices run Monday through Thursday and include a 30 minute screening window for players and coaches before the first practice of each day.
Whether players are being forced to wear a mask, have their temperatures taken, or fill out a questionnaire, the common word around Frank Bleyer Field is “appreciative” between players and coaches.
“We’re so excited to be back out here working again after such a successful season last year,” said senior linebacker Will Bowlby. “Coaches are trying to give us new things to do every day at practice to keep us from getting bored, but so far they’re doing a great job.”
Coach Lee has seen how his team has adapted to the new conditioning oriented practices and says his players will run more like a sports car than a monster truck entering the season.
Junior Lamark Threadgill is a cornerback and wide receiver for the Terriers that is accustomed to running like a sports car. In fact, Lee labeled Threadgill as the fastest kid in the state which is something the junior has been working on during quarantine.
“I was like ahhh, when I heard we wouldn’t have a football during drills, but I knew that just meant more conditioning,” said Threadgill. “I was running with my track coach on and off the football during quarantine. We’ll be ready...me and my teammates have been playing together since we were in Jr. Terriers together and all we love is football.”
Lee says he looks at this situation as an opportunity to set a good example for when the IHSA gets its approval to enter Stage 2 from the IDPH. Until that decision is made the players and coaches will try and keep as big of a smile as senior quarterback Darius Ragland during these obscure times.
“I just try to be supportive to the younger guys because I know they look up to me,” said Ragland. “I strive to be a good role model for them and the coaches have helped by joking around in the team huddles after practice and helping them catch this vibe we’re on.”
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