John Hughes, Key West High School junior varsity and varsity football coach, hopes that’s the only delay, but he’s preparing his team as best as he can manage for the continuing unknowns.
“Practices haven’t been football-related. It’s just been strength and conditioning. That’s all we’re allowed to do. Not even basic drills. We’ve been working in the weight room with three different groups, and we go to the stadium to do speed drills,” Hughes said.
Will Andrews, a varsity senior, said he’s had some trouble adjusting to the new requirements at practice. “When we’re lifting and running, we have to wear a mask, which makes it harder to breathe. Plus it gets in the way,” Andrews said.
Fifty miles up the road, Victor Segura, a junior at Marathon High School, is also melancholy about the pandemic’s possible impact on his season.
“It doesn’t feel real,” Segura said. “This was supposed to be my best season, and I was hoping to get college offers this year. I was ready to be a leader and still am.”
Hughes, the Key West coach, is dealing with similar sentiments.
“It’s tough keeping them motivated and believing there is going to be a season, especially the seniors, since they saw what happened in the spring last year,” Hughes said. “There is a chance we won’t play. That possibility is there, and it scares them.”
This whole situation is unprecedented, but Hughes has been doing plenty of research and has some modifications that could make it possible for students to play the ultimate contact sport safely: long sleeves, gloves, protective masks and wiping down the football between plays. Hughes said additional modifications are being discussed, but he hopes the game won’t get “too watered down.”
At the top of the Keys, Richard Russell, athletic director at Coral Shores High School, said the players’ and staff’s health and safety is the top priority, but so is that of their immediate and extended families.
Sarah Eckert, athletic director at Key West High School, also has been closely monitoring statewide and national discussions of high school athletics for the fall.
“We need to get over a lot of hurdles in order to have a season,” she said, adding that football could have a higher risk of spreading the virus than other sports with less contact and no huddles. “Between now and the tentative Aug. 24 start date, the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) will hold another board meeting, and part of the discussion will be whether they need to postpone the start of football season even further.”
Adding to the complications are the varying scenarios in other counties, where most of the Keys’ competitors are located.
“We still have to coordinate with Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, as well as Lee and Carter counties on the west coast,” Hughes said. “If they’re not ready to start on the 24th, then we can’t start.”
Despite a potentially bleak outlook, KWHS varsity senior Max Ryan chose a positive perspective.
“I think these practices have been going pretty well. I’ve improved a lot over them, and I think it’s the same for others,” Ryan said, hoping for an eventual light at the end of the viral tunnel.
“It’s a very fluid situation,” Hughes said. “There’s no game plan, we’re just going to have to adapt.”