high school football

Mart football players work through the first day of practice in 2018. For now, the Panthers players, like everyone else in the state, are working out independently from the team environment as they look forward to a run at another state championship.

High school athletes are getting a real-world, extreme test of initiative right now.

Because the response to the coronavirus has been to shut down all schools for the remainder of the spring semester and move to online learning, students of all ages are finding out just how much they can be self-starters.

Central Texas athletic directors can only give direction and check in from a distance.

During the past eight weeks, high school coaches have gotten creative in communicating and sending out non-weight room workouts so their athletes can try to stay in shape.

In normal circumstances, conditioning is among the most scientific of pursuits for athletes and coaches. Measurements are taken and growth is charted. But nothing about the current circumstances fit with the usual methods of training.

“We’ve sent out weekly workouts to all the athletes and I feel like 99.9 percent are receiving the information,” Lorena athletic director Ray Biles said. “Now, how many are doing it is a different story. I know we have some kids that are committed and taking care of their business and some of them are doing 50 percent and some aren’t doing anything.”

While middle school athletes and students getting ready to enter high school might seem to be the most affected — they haven’t had the years of offseason training to inform them like juniors or seniors have experienced — the coaches know there are going to be successes and failures at all levels.

Mart athletic director Kevin Hoffman, whose Panther football teams have won three-straight state championships, said he’s seen some of his athletes working out on the school’s track, which is open to the public. But he fears others are staying up all night playing video games and sleeping all day.

Such is the temptation of “Stay at home” culture.

But team sports are based on groups working together.

“I’m concerned, really for everybody,” said Jeff Hulme, Midway’s high school campus coordinator and head football coach. “I trust my kids, but at the same token, nobody’s pushing them or coaching them to get that one extra rep.”

Relief might be on the way.

This week, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association voted to allow summer workouts to start on June 8, coinciding with the state starting the second phase of reopening.

Hulme said he and Midway athletic director Brad Shelton talk on a daily basis and have pondered the dates that they might be able to begin summer conditioning programs. Hulme added that he appreciates the UIL’s deliberate, careful approach and that they haven’t announced one date, only to change course later.

Whenever the athletes come back to school for workouts, it’s going to require a strategic approach for how to do it safely, both from a coronavirus and training perspective.

“It makes you a little nervous,” Hulme said. “The enthusiasm to get back is there, but you’ve got to be careful because we can’t hammer ’em when we get back. Whatever we had (in January and February offseason workouts) is lost. We’re starting at ground zero and going from there. If we’re not at ground zero, that’s a plus.”

Connally athletic director Shane Anderson and his entire high school coaching staff jumped in and helped with meals distribution from the start of the shutdown. That’s one way they’ve stayed connected with each other and the athletes.

Anderson also has made it part of his routine to launch a barrage of text messages and phone calls every Sunday.

“I don’t have any answers on the best way to do it,” Anderson said. “Some of my buddies in coaching have been having Zoom meetings every day. That’s not how I do things.

“We’re communicating with 100 percent of them. Sunday I send out a group text (to coaches), ‘reach out to your position.’ And I let them know, ‘Hey, Billy and Bobby are on the principal’s list because they’re not doing their work.’ It’s no different than if we were in school.”

The Cadets had a successful run in 7-on-7 football last summer, but that season has been canceled just like the spring sports. However, the Connally AD is confident that, once the athletes can come back to the weight room to train, it won’t take them long for them to get back in shape.

For the moment, Lorena AD Biles said there’s a blend of trying to motivate kids to stay in shape, but also to challenge them in other areas.

“Some of the stuff we send out is, ‘Do something for somebody else,’ ” Biles said. “So we’ll get pictures of someone vacuuming the carpet or laying grass. We had one kid send a photo of him helping his little brother with homework while the parents were at work one day.”

While various television commercials are employing slogans like “We’re all in this together,” area high school coaches are working to make that a reality.

But there’s the sense that everyone is looking forward to actually coming together.

“The kids need interaction with each other and with the coaches and teachers,” Hoffman said. “When I hear from the UIL that we can open the weight room, I’m going to text them and I’m going to be up there.”

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