Jeremy Bennett had enough to worry about this spring.
The 47-year-old took over the Mullen High School football program in February after being the head coach of D’Evelyn High for the past 15 years. He had to install new schedules, students walked through the corridors to recruit and a coaching staff to get acquainted.
Doing all this without the benefit of personal contact was far from ideal.
“It’s hard to get poetry moving with 11 people if you don’t script it and go over and over again,” Bennett complained.
In a normal year, Colorado’s preparation programs would be right in the middle of spring football right now. Many teams’ first workouts are said to have started last week, with 10-day workouts and team camps in pads and helmets scattered across the state.
Instead, coaches like Bennett are forced to hold virtual sessions with their teams, as in-person training is prohibited by the Colorado High School Activities Association until May due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will soon be up to the local school districts to decide whether or not this moratorium will be extended until the summer months. Many districts have pushed that initiative back to July 1 at the earliest, including Mullen in southwest Denver.
“I have tried to make this as positive as possible,” said Bennett. “One of the things we (the players) tell us is that no one will ever be able to take this from us at Mullen High School. With a brand new staff and kids, we had to endure the worst setback that everyone in our generation has faced. And if we get behind this, we will be stronger for it. “
Of course, no program has been spared by the coronavirus crisis.
Even for someone like Columbine head coach Andy Lowry, who has led the rebels for nearly three decades, there are plenty of obstacles and concerns. Among them it is simply connecting with students.
“Kids need us, and the hardest thing right now is that they need us more than they ever needed us and we can’t be there personally,” said Lowry.
Bennett added, “Yes, we want to play football. Yes, I want to be on the field doing those things. But I want our kids to be mentally okay. I want our kids to know we’re there, not just (for) footballers. I think as educators and coaches we owe it to children to make sure they are mentally okay. “
In some ways, it’s almost like going back in time to Lowry, who started his first job as a head coach at Lakewood High in 1992.
At the time, there was no such thing as 7-for-7 football or spring practice, and the team camp was still a few years away from an established part of the high school football experience.
“I think we’ve coached kids in our state, and maybe too busy in the summer for the past ten or fifteen years,” said Lowry. “I’ve been around long enough to know when we started in August and we didn’t have all this stuff in the summer and we could get our kids to work.”
That can again be challenging for high school coaches – if there is a season to play, of course.
CHSAA has not yet moved start dates for the fall 2020 sports season. Golf is scheduled to hit August 3, and everything else is scheduled to follow the next week. But CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green has previously said “there is nothing off the table” regarding the return of high school athletics to play for the 2020-21 school year.
There are promising developments, including Governor Jared Polis who recently said he expects schools to reopen this fall. However, it looks like things will look very different, and it doesn’t seem that many coaches will be able to have personal contact with athletes by July 1 at the earliest.
Jeffco Public Schools and Denver Publics Schools banned in-person training between players and coaches through August 1, but administrators from both districts acknowledged that data could be moved if conditions change.
“I am confident that we can get our kids ready in a few weeks, as long as they do all the physical activities on their own,” Lowry said. “When it comes to football and working with children for any sport, coaches are quite innovative in how they can do it.”
As for Bennett, he hopes that the executives of Mullen, a private Catholic school, will give their coaches and trainers the green light to start working with student athletes soon. It’s not just about installing a new system, but also getting players ready for the rigors of a football season.
“You can’t go from 0 to 60,” he said. “How do you get ready to play soccer, but any sport, without training your athletes? … can you do it? When they are physically fit. If not, then I have some security issues. “