Brevard football coach Craig Pritchett (Photo: CITIZEN-TIMES PHOTO)
BREVARD ― Craig Pritchett has started looking at his calendar with some concern.
With Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest announcement to close schools until May 15 and the N.C High School Athletic Association’s subsequent response to postpone spring sports until May 18, Brevard’s football coach has growing anxiety about the impact COVID-19 could have on the fall athletic season.
“For us, the last day of skill development in the spring is May 20,” Pritchett said. “At best, we’re going to get three days with our kids before they shut things down for finals, and that’s best-case scenario. I think the question now is if this continues to get worse, how does this affect what we do in the summer? Fall is also a long way off, but there is nothing I can control.”
NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker told the Citizen Times that the current rules for summer practices have not changed: Players are allowed to compete in 7-on-7 competitions and non-contact workouts at the school. Tucker added, though, that if “mandates are still in place” when the school year ends then the NCHSAA “will make the necessary adjustments to any such rules.”
Pritchett’s concern echoes that of many football coaches in WNC, who are now forced to keep their distance from their teams while trying to prepare for the 2020 season.
“I think the biggest thing is that we are in uncharted territory right now,” Pritchett said. “But I’m not going to fear what I can’t control. We pride ourselves on being able to adapt.”
More: Coronavirus: Out of work sport officials share concerns for future
More: Coronavirus: What you need to know in Asheville, WNC on March 25
More: Coronavirus: Lady Bulldogs grapple with unfinished title run
More: Football coaches struggle to afford premium of safety
Learning to adapt
Asheville High’s first-year head coach Cort Radford spent this week with a chainsaw in his hand.
Radford, who just moved back to the Asheville area after two years as a head coach at Chase High School, is taking this time to clear trees near his new home. He wasn’t expecting to have this much time on his hands during the week.
“The toughest part right now is not seeing the kids,” Radford said. “I’ve always gone by a certain plan, and I came in here thinking I would do the same things that made our team successful at Chase High School. Now the plans have changed and I’m learning how to adapt.”
Radford said the lack of contact has made it difficult to implement a new offense and defense for his team, but they’ve found ways to teach. He found an App that he can share with his players that allows them to break down plays and quiz them afterward about their assignments.
He’s also instituted online workouts that are alternatives to weight training since every kid does not has access to weights. All area gyms have been closed, and local athletes are not allowed to access their high school gyms.
“There are certain things you just can’t replace with technology,” Radford said. “But we are doing our best in this situation, and I think the kids are really responding to it.”
Pritchett said he has seen kids get inventive when it comes to lifting weights. Some are lifting couches in their homes, doing handstand push-ups on the wall, running up hills or challenging each other to push-up competitions over social media.
“There are just not enough things in your house to replicate a weight room,” Pritchett said. “It’s a huge loss for these kids, especially the younger guys who need this time to develop.”
For older coaches, staying away from players is for their own protection as well.
Murphy’s David Gentry, 74, is the oldest head football coach in WNC. He holds the state record of career wins with 416 and will decide later this month if he’ll return for his 37th season with the Bulldogs.
North Carolina reported its first death from COVID-19 on March 25, a Cabarrus County resident in their late 70s who had several underlying medical conditions. Gov. Cooper called it “a stark warning” and that “all of us must do our part to stop the spread by staying at home as much as possible and practicing social distancing.”
“I’m staying far away,” Gentry said. “Right now it’s up to us to give these kids workouts to follow, but it’s really up to them to be motivated to stay in shape.”
David Gentry, head coach of the Murphy high school football team, during practice Oct. 16, 2018. (Photo: Matt Burkharttemail@example.com)
Summer camp uncertainties
The summer time is a period of development for high school football players. Many compete in 7-on-7 tournaments with their team, and top area recruits use that time to visit college campuses and make life-changing decisions about their future.
All that could be in jeopardy.
Lance Shealy, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes team camp director, said their organization plans to re-evaluate next month if canceling its annual football camps is the right move.
The FCA hosts two camps at Lenoir-Rhyne University on June 10-12 and June 15-17, bringing in 12 teams each weekend for a total of 800 athletes and 200 coaches.
It’s a weekend of constant 7-on-7 competition and lineman skill challenges. Players stay at the dorms overnight.
“There is a lot of team time during our camps,” Shealy said. “It really sets the table for the rest of the summer for a lot of local programs.”
Shealy said the FCA would make a decision by April 15.
“There are a lot of things to consider and we want to wait and see how things develop,” he said. “We are going to follow what the state of North Carolina and the NCHSAA decide to do, and if they are still restricting contact and not allowing people to gather in crowds, it’ll be impossible to have our camp.”
Erwin football coach Rodney Pruett said he’s expecting to have to adjust his summer schedule because of the spread of the coronavirus.
“I’m preparing to not have my kids the entire summer,” he said. “I believe in safe rather than sorry, and with football putting so many kids in close proximity, it’s hard to imagine us being able to be together. It’s a new world and it’s not going away.”
Christ School junior tight end Charlie Browder was taking an unofficial visit to the University of Kentucky when he and his family were asked to leave the campus.
“We were there the day the Southeastern Conference shut down all recruiting, and we were asked to leave early,” Browder said. “It was pretty crazy.”
The NCAA has suspended all recruiting in Division I athletics and suspended on-campus and off-campus visits through April 15.
Browder, who said he has 15 Division I offers, said that has not stopped him from staying in contact with college coaches, who have stayed in touch through FaceTime and text messages. Christ School has moved to online classes for the rest of the school year and Browder has been back at home in Tennessee since the school’s spring break began Feb. 28.
He said he has received three offers — from N.C. State, Yale and Arkansas State — during the past week.
More: WNC high school football: Top 10 football recruits
“You can still build relationships over the phone, but it’s not the same as face-to-face,” Browder said. “You can’t go meet other players and a get a feel from the program. It makes it impossible to commit. I don’t want to commit to a four- or five-year decision before I’ve been able to visit a campus. I was hoping to have the summer to make these visits, but we’ll see how things go.”
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the Citizen Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @acthshuddle.
Read or Share this story: https://www.citizen-times.com/story/sports/high-school/hshuddle/2020/03/25/coronavirus-uncharted-territory-forces-wnc-football-coaches-players-adapt/2906755001/