The term ‘face mask’ is taking an entirely new meaning at football workouts across the state of Alabama.
With players and coaches across the state strapping on masks in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, football teams have retaken the field in preparation for what they hope to be an upcoming season.
Coaches, who have been away from their players for months, welcomed them back to the field and weight room over the past two weeks.
“If this is what it is going to take for us to play football in the fall, then I am going to do it and that is what our team is going to do and our coaches are going to do,” Tallassee coach Mike Battles Jr. said. “We are going to make sure we do everything that we are supposed to so that those seniors, our football team and everyone else’s football team in the state gets to play football, because that is very important to, not only our schools, it is very important to our state.”
Battles says this situation is unprecedented state-wide and nation-wide, and as far as his coaching career, he could only compare it to the 1998 F5 tornado which caused practices to be cancelled for his Oak Grove team.
The advantage that exists 22 years later, which didn’t when he was at Oak Grove, is the technology available to players and coaches. With many players having cell phones now and access to video-conferencing technology like Zoom, it made it easier for Battles to stay in contact with his staff and team.
In 1998, Battles posted flyers around Oak Grove telling players to meet at a local church for his first team meeting following the tornado. In 2020, that communication can be done with a text message or phone call.
Battles says the abbreviated schedule goes back to what high school football used to be with everything more condensed to the fall.
“We are starting on June 8,” Battles said. “When I played high school football back in the ’80’s, we couldn’t do nothing until that first day of practice. So we have plenty of time to get all the X’s and O’s in.”
Precautions in place
Now that workouts are back, they take a different look than they ever have before. In Phenix City, first-year Central coach Patrick Nix is implementing plenty of new precautions.
Central is making sure that players, coaches and everyone at practice is properly wearing their face masks at all times. Coaches also wipe down all equipment between the times players are on it and players wash their hands between team activities.
Nix says these precautions are certainly a change, but he sees them as things that programs probably should have been implemented before anyway to help prevent things like staph infections.
“Quite honestly, we probably should have been spraying down a long time ago, which we do a lot for staph infection and for everything else,” Nix said. “We have always tried to keep the guys healthy when it comes to that, but obviously we haven’t washed hands before everything we do before we rotate and go to a new thing.”
Central and other schools are also limiting contact by having roughly half their team come in the morning and and other half in the afternoon. Within those groups, players are also divided up into separate groups. Nix says that change has increased the individual attention a coach can give a certain player.
“We aren’t able to all work together so to speak,” Nix said. “In a way that is a problem, but in a way that is a very good thing too. We are able to get a lot of good individual instruction in at the same time.”
‘On the side of caution’
The situation remains fluid and coaches are focused on keeping track of all the newest information from state and local leaders.
“We are erring on the side of caution right now because we value our community, and we value the health of our community,” Nix said. “We are just taking it one week at a time. … We will just take small steps and quite honestly we have to take small steps anyway. We haven’t been together in a long time.”
First-year LaFayette coach Juan Williams summed up everyone’s goals for workouts during the pandemic.
“We want everybody to come safe and leave safe,” Williams said. “That is our main purpose.”