Massive fields, minimally filled. That’s life in phase one for high school football teams across the state of South Carolina launching summer workouts in the midst of a pandemic.
“I feel real safe, and I’m pretty old,” Dorman head coach Dave Gutshall jokes. “If I feel safe, I think everybody feels pretty safe.”
“I’m just glad they’re showing up,” adds Wren head coach Jeff Tate. “We can’t have but nine out there, they will get winded, they will get tired. But if they’ll go hard for 45 minutes, they’re gonna be in great shape.”
“They’re in better shape than we thought,” Gutshall says of his team. “Now we’ve had a couple throw up out here, but that’s normal, even if we’re in the weight room.”
With South Carolina High School League guidelines limiting groups to nine students and a coach per facility, be it field, weight room or gym, teams are making their own decisions about the most efficient ways to practice. At Wren High School, where the defending state champions have been joined by members of the middle school squad, the Hurricanes staff have split a surplus of 100 students into 15 groups. For now, their 45-minute sessions are spent in one facility, with lineman bulking up in the weight room and skill players focused on improving conditioning in field drills.
“It’s not anything too difficult, we try not to overthink the process, give them too much to do,” Tate said. “We want to gradually work them into shape and as the weeks go by, gradually work in a few more exercises.”
In Roebuck, things are going smoothly for Dorman. After temperature checks, which are universal at all schools in the state right now, groups of Cavaliers have an hour to shuffle from station to station in intervals.
“We start them with weights, they’ve got a 15 minute kettlebell workout,” Gutshall said as he outlined a typical day for his team. “Then they go to field one, where they do a 15 minute position workout. Then the third is all conditioning, and then the fourth is back to position. Usually we’re ready to play a football game right now and we haven’t seen these kids in two months, so we have to be careful that we slowly adjust them.”
With social distanced setups and coaches wearing masks at all times during instruction, teams have put a paramount on health and safety.
“We have not had a single parent that felt like what we had in place wasn’t safe,” said Tate.
“I told the parents last week I can’t guarantee they won’t catch the virus, but they won’t catch it here,” Gutsall added. “We’re doing everything that’s recommended.”
“I’m not too worried about catching anything right now,” Dorman senior wide receiver and defensive back Dee Rice-Williams said. “Nothing touch involved, they’ve been doing a great job.”
But with no footballs in sight at the moment, and no timetable yet for when teams can move to phase two, these summer drills are above all, a return to normalcy, even if there’s nothing normal about it.
“I’ve been thinking about it all break,” Rice-Williams said of returning to the practice field with his teammates. “It’s really what kept me going over quarantine.”