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Oklahoma high school football: COVID-19 made first day of fall practice unlike any before it

A Jones High School football coach talks with players on Monday as they go through team drills during the first practice of the fall.  [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
A Jones High School football coach talks with players on Monday as they go through team drills during the first practice of the fall. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

The hum of the lights towering over Mustang’s football field late Sunday night were only overcome by the soft voices of coaches spread across the turf.

Mustang’s football team held meetings before a midnight practice kicked off its 2020 season. Members of the defense were outside while the offense remained in the fieldhouse. Positions groups were spread out, defensive backs in the north end zone, linemen in the south and linebackers at midfield on the home sideline.

But in a sport that preaches teamwork, brotherhood and camaraderie, it seemed as if the players wanted nothing to do with one another.

The Broncos, though the number of players in each position group were plenty, had spread out across the turf and bleachers to stay distanced. Every coach and athlete wore a mask, and when head coach Lee Blankenship called the players inside to grab their equipment and get ready for a midnight sharp start to practice, he called out words he has grown accustomed to saying.

“Guys, make sure you stay spread out heading into the locker room. Give each other space,” he hollered across the field as players scurried toward the locker room.

The coronavirus pandemic made the first day of football practice ahead of the 2020 season unlike any before it. Coaches spent as much time stressing on how to keep their kids spaced out and safe as they did installing new route concepts or defensive coverages.

Football teams are also weeks behind on preparation because there was no spring ball. Even with Zoom meetings and summer workouts, most programs are essentially starting from scratch.

“In my 23 years of coaching, this has been the weirdest first day ever,” Jones coach Dave Martin said. “We take just as much time doing prep work for before and after practice to keep kids safe as we do practicing.”

The odd start to practice started back in March when the OSSAA voted to postpone the state basketball tournament and eventually cancel spring sports and the tournaments. Monday was the first day of OSSAA activities allowed since then, including the first softball and volleyball games with cross country meets scheduled for later this week.

Football teams didn’t have spring football practice or team camps. For some coaches, like Blankenship and Martin, the effect is still large but not as much as schools with new head coaches, like Putnam City and Carter Whitson.

Whitson didn’t have spring football to implement his system and get coaches on the same page. On top of that, Putnam City Schools is starting with virtual-only school for the first nine weeks, which is another piece of the puzzle Whitson has to figure out how to handle.

“It has been a crazy few weeks,” Whitson said.

Schools are doing their part to have a full season. Coaches are wearing masks, even outdoors. Players are social distancing when not in a drill and sport face coverings during meetings.

Numerous questions remain, including the uncertainty of whether teams will even be able to play games this year. But practice No. 1 of the 2020 season is in the books for Oklahoma high school football teams.

And it’s arguably the strangest opening day ever.

“This is all stuff you just never think you’ll have to deal with,” Blankenship said. “But we’re learning how to do it better every day and just are taking that day-by-day approach.”

Related Photos
<strong>A Jones receiver goes up to catch a pass on Monday during high school football practice. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]</strong>

A Jones receiver goes up to catch a pass on Monday during high school football practice. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-5c87704ead9c1adc7b534f7e9868aa49.jpg" alt="Photo - A Jones receiver goes up to catch a pass on Monday during high school football practice. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" A Jones receiver goes up to catch a pass on Monday during high school football practice. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> A Jones receiver goes up to catch a pass on Monday during high school football practice. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a91bf065e79008032f4078899f1f3002.jpg" alt="Photo - A Jones High School football coach talks with players on Monday as they go through team drills during the first practice of the fall. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title=" A Jones High School football coach talks with players on Monday as they go through team drills during the first practice of the fall. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> A Jones High School football coach talks with players on Monday as they go through team drills during the first practice of the fall. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Cameron Jourdan

Cameron Jourdan joined The Oklahoman in March 2019 to cover high school sports. He graduated from Oklahoma State University in May 2018. He had an internship with The Oklahoman and Stillwater News Press. During his time at OSU, Cameron served in a... Read more ›

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