NEWLAND — The Coronavirus pandemic continues to force people in all walks of life to adjust daily schedules, including staying home and keeping proper social distances. COVID-19 has also spurred state leaders to shut down in-school learning for students in North Carolina for the remainder of the school year.
In addition to the academic adjustments that are being made by teachers, the athletic side of prep sports has also been greatly affected. With no schools open and guidelines in place to curtail the spread of the virus, high schools have lost virtually its entire spring sports seasons, and while the duration of the pandemic remains up in the air, the fall sports season, notably high school football, is also in question.
With this as the backdrop, the Avery Vikings football team, like the rest of the teams in the state, are in a state of flux when it comes to when the group will be able to eventually return to conventional skills development, offseason weight programming and taking to the practice field. Avery Football has been adapting to the new circumstances of the past several weeks and been proactive, working to provide its players with as many tools and as much information as possible to allow them to continue making positive strides mentally and physically while staying safe at home.
“It’s a hard thing for everybody,” third-year Avery Head Football Coach Mac Bryan said regarding the situation. “We’re still in the process of physically trying to catch up with some of our conference opponents just from a physical strength standpoint. Not having the time we’ve lost to do that has probably kept us a step behind a couple of them. It takes time to catch up once you get behind.”
When school athletics ground to a halt at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, March 13, the Vikings had been able to complete only its first rotation of offseason conditioning. By this time, the team would have been close to completing its third rotation of offseason work. Bryan feels that though his club hasn’t taken a backward step as the result of the stoppage, it still has had an adverse effect upon preparation.
“I don’t feel like this is going to be a step backward. The problem is: are we taking a step forward? We had just had our January second max when things shut down,” Bryan explained. “We’ve missed this entire third weight cycle, where we would have been maxing in mid-May, so that’s too bad we couldn’t get that in.”
To make up for the time and instruction lost that would normally take place, the Viking coaching staff has taken the challenges in stride to provide players with whatever information and training they are allowed to do at a distance while still adhering to state rules and regulations.
“There really is nothing you can do from a hands-on perspective. When the schools shut down, our weight room facility shut down. There hasn’t been a single kid in there because when the schools were closed, everything was shut down,” Bryan added. “In brief, we spent some time early on with a good deal of offensive and defensive staff meetings until the stay-at-home order came. I and a number of other teachers are still reporting to school, but I only see (assistants) Coach Guyer and Coach Andrews. I don’t run into more than two or three people a day because we’re following the social-distancing guidelines.”
Faced with the dynamic of having to work with and teach their players without actually being in physical contact with them, coaches have been tenacious in communicating principles to help the team move forward to stay on schedule based on the assumption that the Friday night lights of fall will again fire up without delay this August.
“Immediately after the schools shut down, we transitioned into communicating via email to the players for workouts for Monday through Thursday of each week. We’ve been sending them weight lifting information as it pertains to how they can adapt lifts, if they don’t have the equipment, how to improvise,” Bryan said. “You can take a broomstick and tie two buckets to it and do a makeshift bench press, or you can substitute push-ups for bench press. Hopefully everybody is doing something the best that they can. The more highly motivated guys are doing a lot of it, and we’re hoping all the guys are doing something, so we’re sending out the workouts just like we were still here at school lifting. Additionally, we’ve been encouraging them to do some kind of physical activity, like sprinting, running and those types of things, but if the family doesn’t feel comfortable with them being outside, we’ve sent a couple of articles that deal with how to do aerobic conditioning from inside the home.
“We’ve also given them information on nutrition, because in a situation like what we’re in, you don’t want them sitting around on the couch eating potato chips all day, and that’s what a lot of kids will do,” Bryan continued. “We’ve also touched on some flexibility exercises to help them work on increasing flexibility, just trying to send that all out on a consistent basis during the course of this lockdown.”
In some cases during the past few weeks, the coaches have taken advantage of technology to creatively work with players, leading them through practices through videotaped “practices” that reinforce the team’s playbook for individual memorization and growth.
“We filmed three videos for each position group, one for quarterbacks and running backs, one for wide receivers, and a video for the offensive line. Each attachment we send has three videos on them, which has me diagramming on the board what we would have installed that day of spring football,” Bryan explained. “Coach Guyer did a heck of a job filming it and adding slides for players to review. For two guys not knowing what we were doing (with the technology), it wasn’t bad.”
Bryan shared concern over the possibility of some of his players not being able to access the team’s online catalog of information due to poor internet connectivity in some portions of Avery County.
“Every email we’ve sent out, we have asked them to contact us if there is a problem. On our program we are able to look and see which people have been logging on to access the material. Some of them are doing so, while others are not, which leads us to assume that either they’re not doing it, or we’re assuming that they probably can’t,” Bryan noted. “Everyone doesn’t have great internet access. We’ve done about all we think we can do, and we’re going to be sending out a detailed conditioning program this week as we enter May, and with us not coming back to school, we need to give them a detailed running program so hopefully the ones that will do it are ready to start practice once we are able to start. We have to be into agility and movement patterns, sprinting and stuff to get the legs ready. For example, if we don’t start before July, their legs won’t be ready for two or three weeks. The legs just won’t be ready to play 48 minutes of football if you’re a two-way player.”
In the meantime, for whatever amount of time that coaches and players will remain separated as a result of COVID-19, Bryan offered a message to players, their families, and everyone impacted by the pandemic.
“We want everybody to practice the washing of hands and social distancing that is being recommended. We hope everyone is following that, and we want everyone, our parents and families and players, to first and foremost be safe,” Bryan said. “Secondly, if a player needs something, or something comes up, they know how to contact us. They can reach out by calling or emailing us. We also just want our guys to follow the information that we have been sending with them, preparing themselves physically by doing the conditioning program we’re sending, watching these videos and being more knowledgeable about the game. I think we’re on the right track, and once we start back we’ll be ready to go. We’ll have some advantages, like a number of good seniors and juniors who have been in the program for a while which will help with our learning curve with our younger players. We just look forward to having everyone out there as soon as it’s safe for everyone to do so.”