If you’re looking for a difficult task this offseason, find a phrase more popular than “I don’t know” over the past few months around athletic facilities. High school football coaches have simply tried to follow the guidelines issued to them while keeping a positive mentality during summer workouts.
And some local teams, like Ruston, have had to shut down operations for two weeks after having a player test positive. Ruston head coach Jerrod Baugh said he hopes the team can resume practice on July 13.
Given the current climate nobody seems to know whether or not an actual season will take place in a few months. Count Ouachita among the schools who are playing the guessing game.
“I’m taking it one day at a time,” Ouachita head coach Jeff Fitzgerald said. “If there’s one thing I learned this entire process is that if I put all of my hope in a game, it’s going to let me down. I put my hope in Jesus because he is not changing.”
All things considered, it’s business as usual at Ouachita, or at least as normal as it could be under the current circumstances. Athletes are working out with the goal in mind to compete for a Class 5A State Championship. And Fitzgerald won’t lie — it’s nice having a quarterback in Zach Shaw who has multiple years of varsity experience returning to lead the offense.
“Well, not just him, but we’ve got a slew of starters returning,” Fitzgerald said. “A year ago we had to replace 17 or 18 starters with guys that have very limited playing time. Now, this year we get 17 or 18 starters back. Thankfully we have that maturity and playing time under our belt going into the year, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
As Ouachita underwent a youth movement in 2019, the Lions finished 5-6 with a first-round exit. But with all but one starter returning on the offensive line to go along with a quarterback that has had his moments against elite competition in the state, you have to feel good about Ouachita’s chances of winning in 2020.
Still, the Lions are undergoing the same logistical problems everyone else is in the state.
“The toughest thing for us right now is slowing down and backing up,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going from a mentality where when normally guys show up for the first day of the summer, we’re really ramping it up. Now they show up and we’re having to back up and approach it like they haven’t been working out. So we’ve taken a much slower approach to try and reduce the amount of injuries.”
That, along with missing out on polishing players in the spring, has made high school coaches’ jobs a lot more difficult this year. And the question remains on when teams will get to compete in 7-on-7’s, if they will at all. That’s another summer activity Fitzgerald misses.
“Any time you get a chance to pick up a football and compete together, there’s just so much from a competitive side that we miss,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody has different philosophies on 7-on-7’s, but we do what we would normally do in football games. We’re looking for guys who will go out there and compete.”
Governor John Bel Edwards stated recently that Louisiana would remain in Phase II until July 24. For a contact sport like football to take place, the schools would need Phase III to kick in sooner rather than later to prepare for a full football season.