Although the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced in August that it would delay the first game of the football season until Feb. 26, 2021, the Chapel Hill High School football team is beginning to prepare now.
“We’re staying optimistic and making sure that we have everything in place so that if we are able to resume play, then we will be ready,” head coach Isaac Marsh said.
Players have been instructed to participate in online workouts over Google Meet in addition to taking a weightlifting class as part of their workload this semester.
Under the new circumstances, skill position players, like wide receiver Kyhlil Jones, get together for early morning practices before school three times a week.
Because the team isn't allowed to hold official practices until Feb. 8, Jones is typically the one to encourage his teammates to stay active despite the extended offseason.
“He does a good job making sure everybody gets to the field,” junior quarterback Caleb Kelley said.
In years past, Chapel Hill High School had been unable to field a varsity team due to a lack of interest. But now the team features over a dozen seniors, who have hopes this season could aid in college recruiting. Both Jones and Kelley have aspirations to continue playing at the collegiate level and recognize the impact a canceled season could have on their futures.
“Most colleges, they want to see the senior film as well to make sure I maintain playing good,” Jones said.
Once play resumes, new precautionary measures will be enforced to keep players and coaches safe. These include sideline extensions, regularly cleaning equipment and requiring all players to bring their own water bottles.
But the season is highly dependent on whether or not classes can be held in person.
“I basically will follow (the NCHSAA’s) lead. If they feel it’s not safe for us to be out there, by no means will we go against that because the players’ safety or even the coaches’ safety is first and foremost,” Marsh said.
The NCHSAA will begin to slowly allow fall sports to return in November, in the hopes of getting a better feel for how to safely conduct games and practices by the time football returns. Cross country and volleyball will be among the first to resume play.
Despite the obvious disappointment the team feels about delaying the season, many players remain optimistic.
“You’ve just got to look at it as more time to get ready for the season and use it to your advantage,” Kelley said.
Team members cited winning the conference or making it to the state playoffs as goals for the year, but Marsh, in his 23rd year of coaching, had a different message for his players.
“Of course we always want to have a successful winning year,” Marsh said. “Overall, I think that a successful year for us would be if we’re able to take the field and the guys learn from this pandemic and don’t take things for granted.”
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