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Different offseason: High school football teams adjusting to new normal

Photo by Neal Smith Warren quarterback Kurt Taylor (7) rolls out during a high school football game against Williamstown last season.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to plenty of change in the sports world, and high school football is no different.

Marietta’s Jason Schob and Warren’s Matt Kimes are among thousands of high school football coaches around the country who have had to adjust to new offseason guidelines. Both coaches admitted it’s been a process.

“It’s different,” said Schob, whose Tigers are coming off a 4-6 campaign. “There’s all kinds of precautions you’re not used to. We’re trying to stay as safe as possible. It’s a fluid process. It seems like things change every week or two. I’ve been really pleased with how the kids are doing.”

Schob said his program has seen a spike in interest. With contact sports being prohibited for months when the pandemic first struck, players were itching to get back to work.

“I’ve had better numbers than in the past,” Schob said. “There’s been a ton of interest. Kids are really working hard right now.”

Kimes, whose Warriors put up an impressive 6-4 record in 2019, has noticed a similar rise in numbers.

“We’ve got some new kids out that hadn’t played the last few years,” he said. “I think the success and excitement of last year has led to interest growing a little bit. From that standpoint, I’m excited about what these kids are working toward, and they’re excited to be back at it.”

However, being back at it also means having to adapt to the new normal. For awhile, teams had to split up weight-lifting sessions into “pods.”

“When we started off we had to go in different pods of nine kids and one coach,” Schob explained. “We offered six lifting sessions and divided the kids into pods. That was the first two weeks of the process. Then they expanded it so we could do more outside. Last week, they upped it to 30 in the weight room and 50 outside. There’s a lot of sanitation process we have to go through, including wiping stuff down, coaches wearing masks, wiping down footballs. And kids have to be six feet apart when not participating.”

While Schob admitted these guidelines limit a coach’s ability to develop players, he acknowledged it’s all necessary when considering the dangers of the virus.

“It’s not ideal as far as development, but obviously we need to take this situation seriously,” he said. “So far it’s been going well. They’re really working hard.”

Warren players and coaches also have taken everything in stride.

“Once the guidelines were set forth back in May, we just kind of started doing what they said,” Kimes said. “We split up into pods, sanitized equipment, social-distanced. The kids had been off for so long, I knew they would be hungry just to get back at it. They’ve been great at jumping through the hoops.”

The Warriors have used technology to their advantage. Meetings on Zoom allowed the team to discuss plays and game-planning, so they could hit the ground running once they were allowed on the field.

“We spent a lot of the spring doing Zoom meetings,” Kimes said. “We got a lot of Xs and Os stuff covered virtually. Now that we are able to throw the ball around a little bit, we are doing that, just trying to get back into football mode. Fortunately for us we have a lot of guys coming back, so we’re not having to change anything terminology-wise.”

Two players returning are all-district honorees Kurt Taylor and Evan Gandee. Taylor at quarterback and Gandee at wideout set several passing and receiving records together last season. Warren has high hopes of another successful season on the gridiron.

“When we come to work every day, I talk to the kids about ‘What’s our purpose?'” Kimes said. “I think we’re all on the same page to make this a special season and be the first team in Warren history to make the playoffs. We’re going to have to work hard for it, but it’s not unrealistic with the guys we have and their work ethic.”

Both Marietta and Warren have football players who are multi-sport athletes. With summer baseball leagues going on, Kimes said his staff has tried to balance things out so there’s less pressure on the players.

“Our staff as a whole has done a good job to make sure we’re not scheduling too many things on the same day,” Kimes said. “Between football, baseball and basketball, we don’t want kids to have to make a choice of where to go.”

Another big change Marietta and Warren will share in common this season pertains to the schedule. With the Warriors joining the Tigers in the East Central Ohio League, their rivalry game will now be played week 10. The teams used to square off in week two, but now will end their regular season against one another.

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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