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Cliff Williams / The Tribune Elmore County's Jordan Cantrell against Lincoln.

There is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the return of sports but players, coaches and fans are starting to get a little restless especially in the state of Alabama as football season is more and more affected by the pandemic. 

Spring football is usually all the talk right now but high school football programs are stuck doing video chat workouts as individuals from home instead. The AHSAA is likely convening on a regular basis to come up with a plan of what a return to the field will look like but without anything set in place yet, coaches are starting to get worried about how much time they will have to prepare for the upcoming season.

“You’re never going to be fully prepared,” Stanhope Elmore football coach Brian Bradford said. “Not having spring training really hurts from a knowledge standpoint and a team chemistry standpoint. That’s where we build our conditioning and get into good shape before the summer. If we can get back in June, we’ll be fine. It’s not ideal but I think it would still be possible.”

The AHSAA Central Board of Control approved a record 11 legislative proposals Thursday during its 2020 Spring Legislative Council meeting which was held via teleconferencing for the first time in AHSAA history. All legislative proposals that passed will go into effect June 1.

Teams will not have the same amount of time to build game plans and work on schemes but every team is going to be in the same boat whenever the season arrives. The biggest concern is making sure the players are physically ready for full contact and coaches are not the only ones worried about the risk of injuries once the season starts.

“These fall sports they have missed time getting ready for and my fear is when they jump back out there, you’re going to see an increase in pain and injuries,” Phoenix Rehab’s Brent Vinson said. “As soon as they get the green light, they really have to take that two-week period to acclimate because I fear if they don’t, that puts them at risk of an injury.”

Vinson, who heads up the athletic training for Wetumpka, Holtville and Elmore County, said those first two weeks will likely need to be done without any contact and most of the work should be done in the weight room or with conditioning. Some athletes are getting work done from home right now but coaches cannot count on all of them staying in shape while being away from the resources they are used to.

While athletes are stuck at home, coaches are taking advantage of available technology to make sure their players are still working despite not being on campus. Teams are still staying active and working together using group workout plans while meeting over video conferences but there is still a missing piece that may be cause for concern.

 

Holtville athletic trainer Samantha Yates said she is big on form and technique, especially with some of the more injury-prone athletes, and with them being away from the staff and coaches for so long, she wants to make sure everything is being done correctly in those first few weeks of getting back on the field.

“Hopefully we will have a few weeks instead of just jumping in,” Yates said. “We want to see them use the correct form, just to make sure everything is right biomechanically and make sure they don’t injure themselves as soon as they start up again.”

If the start of summer camp gets pushed back, athletic trainers will be faced with a new challenge as coaches look to get their players ready for the season without having as much time as they are accustomed to having. 

“It’s unique because no one has ever gone through this,” Wetumpka athletic trainer Cody Arant said. “If this lingers over the summer, they may have to postpone the start of the season. If there is only a small window to prepare, you’re going to be worried about it. We have to be very prepared for those situations.”

The shock and disappointment from team activities being canceled is not be completely gone yet but high school athletes are not letting any of it show. Players have quickly gotten back to work with the limited resources they have as they try to stay in shape to be ready for their return to the field.

If some of the summer workout period is cut short, coaches and athletic trainers will have to start worrying about heat acclimation. Starting in June can be much easier on players than starting in July, especially if they have not been staying active at home.

“The biggest thing I have said to our kids is to stay in shape,” Tallassee football coach Mike Battles said. “Do the lifts you want to but the biggest thing anyone can do is go out and run. That conditioning is the biggest thing I worry about.”

Experienced coaches have a good idea of how much time it takes to get players conditioned and ready for the season but without knowing a return date, they are still unsure if they will have enough time to get their players to that point before the start of the season. 

“As coach, you have to be smart in returning back to the wright room and conditioning,” ECHS football coach Jordan Cantrell said. “We can’t just pick up where we left off. They haven’t been doing everything so we have to have a gradual return to avoid those injuries. We want to be rough and tough to develop a program but there are times we’ve never dealt with before. We have to be smart about it.”

Most coaches agreed anywhere from five to six weeks of workouts will be needed before feeling comfortable with starting fall camp. 

That means if the shutdown on sports moves into July, the football programs could see their seasons shortened or pushed back but as of now, coaches are just waiting for a final decision to be made by the state board.

“At this point, I’d hate to speculate what (AHSAA executive director Steve) Savarese and those folks at AHSAA are working on,” Holtville coach Jason Franklin said. “They are all experienced and have the best medical doctors advising them with what we should be doing. I’ll feel confident with whatever recommendation they come up with.”

Bradford said, “I really don’t want a shortened season but I’d take a shortened season over no season.” 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.