Spring sports athletes were the primary sports victims of COVID-19 but football players are also paying the price as spring football practices have also been canceled. So, a number of local football players are getting creative to get some work in during the shutdown.
High school football teams would be diving into spring practices this month if schools were still open but instead players from Enterprise and New Brockton are working alone or in small groups to strengthen their bodies and also strengthen the bond between one another.
New Brockton junior quarterback Kaden Cupp and Avery Weed have been meeting with a number of teammates at Weed's home to get in weight training and to work on pass-catching drills along with running.
“It gives us a big advantage because not all players (from other teams) are out here working like this,” Cupp said. “Us getting this extra work, while other people aren’t will really help us out a lot in the long run.”
While Cupp is a two-year starter at quarterback for the Gamecocks, Enterprise’s junior quarterback Quentin Hayes will be going into 2020 as the expected starter at the position but will be missing key practices during the spring.
Hayes has been training with a number of Wildcat skill players to try and build on chemistry with one another without the benefit of spring practices to do so.
“It’s extremely important just to build a relationship with each other and get closer together,” Hayes said of working out with teammates during this time. “It’s big for me to get those reps with my receivers and running backs right now because I can’t get that in the spring, and I don’t even know if I’ll even be able to get it in the summer.
“It’s really important to build that relationship with my receivers and get more comfortable with them.”
It’s not just younger players that are putting in the work, however, as Enterprise seniors Josh McCray and LZ Leonard said that it was important to get to work when no one is watching.
“We don’t have any school or anybody behind us making us do this work, so we have to do it ourselves,” Leonard said. “There may not even be any summer workouts either so we have to make the best out of these sessions.”
McCray said that it was important to get better even with no spring practices.
“It’s super important,” McCray said. “With no spring at all – and we’re about to be seniors – it’s hard for us. This is going to help us get better.”
Enterprise senior Jared Smith was cited by his coaches as a player that made huge progress – especially in speed – since the end of the 2019 season and Smith said this time is crucial for him.
“It’s crucial because I need to keep up with my speed training and outwork everyone else so that I don’t fall behind because we don’t even know if we’ll get a summer,” Smith emphasized. “It’s important me to be out here setting an example for my brothers. I have to have that mindset to get out here and get better and to also help my brothers get better.”
A number of these players have been posting videos and pictures of their workouts, hoping it may inspire teammates that aren’t working right now.
“It shows everybody we’re working out and you can be doing it, too,” Cupp said. “Hopefully it will push everyone around us.”
Leonard and McCray held that same sentiment.
“Hopefully they see it and see if we can be out here doing it then they should be too,” Leonard said as McCray nodded.
McCray and Leonard also had the benefit of former Enterprise star running back Maurice Hicks – who is now a player at North Alabama – coming out to help them out with drills and workouts.
“I like when (young guys) like to get in extra workouts away from school, so I love to see this,” Hicks said. “That work ethic means a lot and it’s a big deal for me when they want to work out with me especially.”
Rising Daleville seniors Sincere McKenzie and Peanut Bloodsaw have taken the time off to work with a pair of former Warhawks in Tyler Presley – who plays at Mile College – and Kingston Lister. Working on pass routes and endurance training, the Daleville seniors said that they were working towards being leaders this coming season.
“It’s very important to be out here,” Bloodsaw said. “We don’t know when the season will be back after all of this (Coronavirus) stuff. So, it’s important to stay on top of the others that aren’t working. It’ll give us an advantage.”
McKenzie said the work they’re putting in now would pay off down the road.
“We’re going to keep grinding and that’s going to get us to that state championship ring we want,” McKenzie said.
Enterprise coach Rick Darlington said that the scary part for him is that the Wildcats have spent so much time together working as a team that now, largely, it’s on the individual to not backslide.
“Obviously this is a real important time right now,” Darlington said. “It’s scary because we work them so hard everyday but we’re working them and now they are away from us.
“We have to take the reins off of them and see how much they’re willing to do on their own. It’s just natural that people are going to work harder when they have someone pushing them and that’s really what coaching is about. You have to have self-discipline, self-motivation and self-creativity right now. There is a lot riding on the individual and we’ve done so much as a team to motivate the group, it’s kind of uncharted territory for all coaches.”
New Brockton coach Zack Holmes said that he has been pleased with videos his players have been sending them of their workouts.
“It’s extremely encouraging,” Holmes said. “Sometimes you wonder – we focus so much on character education and really pouring into our guys as people – and sometimes you wonder if those values and lessons you’re teaching are really taking hold.
“One thing that has been neat is I’ve seen some of those ideals and things we’re trying to teach really taking hold in those guys. They’re finding ways to get better. Not just doing things we ask them to do but going above and beyond that.”
Enterprise sophomore running back Jordan Tacey is one of those players that was affected by seeing teammates post videos and pictures on social media.
“I’m not going to lie, that first week of quarantine I was on my butt doing nothing, but when I saw everyone else working I kind of felt bad and thought about what I was doing,” Tacey said. “I have goals that I want to achieve as an individual as well as with my team. So, I have to work hard to achieve those goals. It really motivated me.”
Darlington said that he’s also been encouraged in seeing some of the stuff his players have been doing but said the important thing is what they’re doing when there isn’t a camera or phone pointed in their direction. Are they still working?
“It’s not just working out one day and putting some pictures on social media and then taking six (days) off,” Darlington said. “We were in here working five days a week before we broke. That’s the thing, because you don’t know what they’re doing really.
“It’s not like we can tell them to send us a video of every single workout and log every workout. It would be impossible to do. You just have to trust them and trust that they’re going to get the work in. It’s not an ideal situation but we have to play the hand we’ve been dealt.”
Coaches are able to hold virtual meetings with players – through Zoom or Google Classroom – and also send out training and workout regimens to players, but for weight training they also have to get creative.
“We don’t just send out workouts to guys, we’re sending out workouts depending on whether they have weights at home or not,” Holmes said. “Coach (Tyler) Stump is outstanding and this situation proves once again to me how valuable he is.”
Stump – New Brockton’s defensive line and strength and conditioning coach – said that he looks around the house for ways players that don’t have access to weights can train.
“You just have to think about it,” Stump said. “A lot of these kids don’t have access to a weight room right now. We’re just trying to find ways for these guys to get something out of nothing.
“Whether it be a book bag filled with things or carrying a cinder block or anything like that to get what they need to get in. There are creative ways to do everything.”
Injury prevention when football does start back up is another big reason for athletes to work out on their own.
“From when we got done in the fall (the team) has come so far and if you lay out for three or four months you can lose everything you’ve gained,” Stump said. “They won’t be prepared and the injuries could skyrocket. We’re trying to put guys in the best position to avoid those things.”
Enterprise’s Dr. Beverly Jordan – a family and sports medicine specialist – said she is most concerned with heat related injuries if players sit around all spring and summer.
“(Players) are going to need to take the responsibility to do their own workout programs to remain in shape both physically and mentally and also remain tolerant to the heat and humidity that is unique to the South,” Jordan emphasized. “That is going to require that they do the hard work of doing their own workout routines and practices outside so that they are acclimated to the weather.
“I am certainly concerned that if our athletes do not acclimate (to the heat) then we could see an increased amount of heat injuries (in the fall). We play the vast amount of our football season when it is still so hot that they would be canceling events in other parts of the country.”
Jordan said that the players have to see this as a chance to get even better, though.
“I am excited for this opportunity for our students to take some self responsibility and take care of this on their own,” she said. “I hope they demonstrate that they will take that responsibility seriously and see that they have the potential to come back in even better shape then they were before.”
Darlington said that he also wants his players to see working out on their own – and the future of a season – as something to be hopeful about in a time where a lot of negativity is going around in the state and the country.
“Hope is almost like ridiculed with everything right now,” Darlington said. “People just belittle the person and say they don’t know what they’re talking about and not taking this whole thing seriously if they just show some hope.
“There is just so much negativity right now on social media especially and that’s just not what the country needs right now I think.”
Darlington said that the hardest part for he and his coaches hasn’t been working his team out or getting in spring practices, it’s simply the loss of interaction with his players.
“People ask me what’s the hardest thing and my answer is very simple,” Darlington continued. “We miss those daily interactions with the players. Not just pushing them in the weight room or on the field but just talking to them.
“Asking them how their classes are going and how their family is doing. That’s why coaches coach, we’re doing it for the kids. You’re trying to make an impact on young men and when you don’t get to see them every day you miss that. We miss the kids and we miss that daily routine that every day third period we’re going to see this group of guys and we’ll see them the next day and the next day.”