One of the biggest days on the high school football calendar in Athens County is the annual season opener between Trimble and Nelsonville-York.
The 2020 contest is scheduled to take place at Boston Field on Aug. 29. The game between the two powers — each school has won a regional title in the last three seasons — usually provides a packed house.
There are many questions and a lot of uncertainty about if that game will be played, or what the crowd will be like if the teams do meet.
While there is a lot to figure out in the coming three months, there were positive steps taken on the Boston Field turf last week.
The Buckeyes were back on the field last week, making the first move forward toward a possible football season.
“It was nice to be able to see the kids again other than just through text messages and that kind of stuff,” Nelsonville-York coach Rusty Richards said.
The Buckeyes held three morning workouts, and Richards said they had 44 players for each.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association, in accordance with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s blessing, allowed schools to have in-person skill training after the COVID-19 pandemic halted all high school sports since March.
Schools were able to host workouts again on their facilities starting on May 26. The Buckeyes were back on the field last Monday.
There are strict guidelines to follow — groups of no more than 10 people, coaches included, are allowed in the weight room at one time.
The Buckeyes are still a long ways off from hosting the Tomcats on their home field, but for Richards it was just good to be back.
“We haven’t seen them for so long,” he said. “My big thing was let’s get them in shape.”
Richards and the Buckeyes have decided to stay out of the weight room for the month of June. Instead of having players come in at different times in groups of no more than 10, the entire team was able to workout on the field.
Assistant coaches Noah Watkins, Luke Richards, Jason Andrews and Noah Andrews helped craft a workout that was full of push-ups, sit-ups, bear crawls, and about anything else you could think of that didn’t involve weight-room machines.
“That way we could stay spread out,” Richards said. “We didn’t have to worry about using equipment. We stayed outside so we didn’t have to worry about disinfecting everything. Just makes it easy on us. We just used the whole Boston Field. We had them spread from goal line to goal line.”
It’s certainly a departure from the norm, as football teams usually spend a great deal of time together in the weight room. Richards said the staff got together to figure out the best way to get ready for the season without doing the normal June routines of morning weight lifting.
“It’s a little more planning than I guess what it normally would,” Richards said. “We’re sort of set in our ways how we do some of the other stuff, but just trying to come up with ways to still get them a workout, minimize our equipment.”
Over the hill, the rival Tomcats will get their official workouts underway on Monday.
Trimble head coach Phil Faires said they will be in the weight room, and have small groups set to come in at different times.
“In between all of it you have to have a half hour of cleaning time,” Faires said. “We have two groups on Monday and Wednesday and two groups going Tuesday and Thursday, then we’ll get a third one in there somewhere.
“We’ll do our lift like we usually do,” he added. “We just won’t have the whole team there.”
Assistant coach Brady Trace will lead the summer weight lifting program, with assistant coach Jacob Koons also helping.
Faires said one of the big drawbacks is missing out on the team bonding that occurs when the entire team is together.
“That’s part of it, them building comradery between each other,” Faires said. “I try to do linemen together, returning lettermen together, freshmen together, but I like having my freshmen in there with the older guys too.”
Trimble graduated 11 seniors from last year’s 11-1 team, so a lot of new faces will join the starting lineup. Faires said some of the players have already taken it upon themselves to stay in shape on their own time.
“The kids that are juniors, they took it upon themselves, today they sent me a video,” Faires said last Tuesday. “They probably had 15 to 20 of them that got together and did some running, with no coaches or anything, just did it on their own off of school property. They sent me a video afterwards. I thought that was pretty neat. They’re trying to do their best to stay in shape.
“I know if we have 40 kids, probably 30 of them are working out (on their own) pretty good,” he added.
While there are guidelines to follow — players have to bring their own water and towels for example — Faires doesn’t think it will be too big of a deal for the month of June.
“As long as everyone’s on the same page and everyone’s doing the same thing, it’s not going to be that big of a deal,” he said. “It’s just something different.”
Across the county in Albany, the Alexander Spartans held their first workouts last week. Head coach Earich Dean said organization was the key.
“We have several steps each day we have to complete before we can even start,” Dean said. “We have to take temperatures, ask COVID-19 questions, record everything all while maintaining social distancing. These kids haven’t seen each other in months, so their first reaction is to go right up and start talking to each other. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it and the kids are starting to understand.”
Dean echoed the same sentiments of Richards, that it was just nice to see the players again and hold workouts, even if they were modified.
“The coaches and kids are very excited about having the opportunity to be together again,” Dean said. “Even in these awkward conditions, having the ability to work together and bond together makes us very grateful.”
Dean said the Spartans are grouped into pods of 10 for their workouts, with most of the focus being on getting the players back into shape.
“At this time we are working a lot on agility and conditioning, with some body weight exercises,” Dean said.
Federal Hocking High School will start its football workouts on Tuesday evening, also meeting on Thursdays. The Lancers will start off doing their workouts outside only.
Athens High School hadn’t announced any dates for its workouts to resume as of last Thursday.
Richards, who doubles as Nelsonville-York’s athletic director, said other sports are also getting back in the game. However, Ben Wagner Gymnasium remains closed at this time.
“Basketball went out Monday and Wednesday, worked on plyometrics, dot drills, speed workouts,” Richards said. “Some of the kids are getting the double — they’re going at 9 with me, then going to 6 o’clock with (boys’ basketball) coach (Blaine) Gabriel.”
As for that season opener between the Buckeyes and Tomcats, Richards and Faires both agreed that a lot has to happen by then. All they can do is control what’s in front of them this month.
“I think a lot of it is just what happens in the next two to three weeks with the numbers and what the governor and Ohio High School says we’re allowed to do,” Richards said. “Other than that we’ll just take what we can get for now. If they let us do 7-on-7s and basketball shootouts in July, then great. If we don’t, it’s a level playing field. It’s not like they’re going to let some schools do it and not others.
“We’re just worried about getting these guys in shape and as we’re allowed to do some things, we’ll incorporate the football a little bit more.”
Faires said Trimble’s passing scrimmages are still on the schedule for July, but that it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll be played.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “Seven-on-sevens usually take up July. You’re not going to be able to do any of those probably. They haven’t canceled them yet, but I’d say 50-50.”
In the meantime, teams will enjoy being together again, even if it’s limited. Richards said even the simplest things such as getting together to break a huddle after a workout have to be altered to keep social distancing in place.
“You’re used to in football, typically before we go from one station to the next, we break it down,” Richards said. “Still breaking it down, we’re just not touching each other. It’s all the little stuff you don’t think about.”