NEEDLES — Football season is a ways off — hopefully, not too far away — but preparations for the 2020 high school season already have been shuffled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teams have been forced to scrub their offseason workouts, be it in the weight room, gym or on the field and spring practice, where it otherwise would be permitted, has been shelved or sent in the virtual world along with every other extracurricular activity in schools in nearly every state in the country.
Instead of practicing football, Needles High School coach Matt Fromelt is practicing patience.
“Everything is kind of on the back burner. The most important thing right now is for the students to stay positive and motivated,” said Fromelt. “We always stress to the team to worry about what you can control, don’t worry about stuff that you can’t control.
“Right now we can’t control anything, so we will just wait at the red light until it turns green.”
When the school closures first hit in the Tri-state, they were hoped to be temporary. Now, the school year is concluding but school buildings remain off limits as classes and other activities are being conducted over the internet or other means.
Several weeks ago, Mohave High School football players were working as hard in classes as they were in the weight room. Rudy Olvera, the Thunderbirds’ varsity coach, said their dedication in early March extended to the practice field and beyond.
“We were preparing for next season while heading into spring break,” said Olvera, referring to mid-March. “In lunch meetings, we reviewed how the players were to watch and grade game film by utilizing our HUDL system (a video and analytics tool from Agile Sports Technologies).”
As the coronavirus gradually took the Southwestern U.S. by storm, all schools — and extra-curricular activities — were put on hold. That included after-school workouts and speed training.
What’s a coach and carpentry instructor to do? In Olvera’s case, it was time to proceed by contacting the student-athletes while obeying the social-distancing guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I have kept in contact with the boys by using email, text, and messages on our HUDL account,” he said. “I have been in touch with our athletic director (Amanda Amann) about when we will be allowed back in the weight room — but at this time, we just do not know.”
River Valley High varsity football coach Jonathan Clark — who also oversees the Dust Devils’ track and field and boys basketball teams — is another mentor who isn’t wasting time. He hasn’t allowed the restrictions attributed to COVID-19 stop his players’ progress en route to “Friday night lights” when school resumes.
“I’m a big believer that the best way to learn football is to practice football,” Clark said, noting it’s easier to teach reads, cuts and blocking angles while actually performing such actions. “With that being said, our emphasis with players now is simply staying in shape. We’re trying to give them options to work out.
“Some kids have weights, some don’t, so our weights program is varied, to say the least.”
Clark said his primary points of contact have been through group chat, which hasn’t been all-inclusive. “I do have the majority of kids on chat, so I think we stay in contact well.”
When May rolls around, he plans to conduct meetings over Zoom with Dust Devil quarterbacks and a few other players. Clark said he also expects to film chalk-talk sessions and post those on HUDL.
“My main goal now is to make sure my QBs are sound,” he explained. “They amplify my voice in practice.”
Meanwhile, River Valley coaches have made changes to offensive schemes and remain in contact with one another, in part to review the preseason expectations, discipline protocol, scheme, practice outlines and everyday drills.
“My hope is that we won’t be far off at that point (early May) from being able to meet in person,” Clark added. “I want to ensure all of our coaches have an individual plan and understand my expectations. That way when it’s time to go, we don’t have any speed bumps.”
Said Olvera: “I have encouraged the young men in our program to do the best they can, continuing the work we put in before the shutdown, and to stay positive and eager to get back at it together.”
For Fromelt, who teaches physical education at NHS, it has been adoption of the 90 Days of Action program from Darebee.com for all of his students, not just football players.
“I really enjoy it,” he said.
According to Fromelt, the production includes “a lot of workouts that you can do from home, and it simply involves your body weight; that way, our students do not need any equipment.”
Participants need only about 6 to 8 feet of room to get their exercises in, explained the coach, whose wife, Emily, handles the video’s graphics.
“The goal is to keep our students and their families motivated to get some sort of physical exercise,” said Fromelt.