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First-time head coaches adjust to delayed prep football start
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First-time head coaches adjust to delayed prep football start

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To put it mildly, the first summer of workouts with their respective football teams was not what Rockridge's Jeff Henry and West Carroll's Teo Clark expected.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all 7-on-7 competition was canceled and contact drills were eliminated. Such precautions as social distancing and the wearing of masks were mandated.

"We had some 7-on-7 planned, but when the IHSA walked back its Phase 4 guidelines, that eliminated contact and we had to scale back what we were doing in our workouts," Henry said. "Plus, no 7-on-7 type scrimmages in practice. In the weight room, we had to adjust how we were able to spot for the kids.

"Obviously, we've had to keep the kids 6 feet apart outside, and the school made the decision to wear masks. We've been installing plays and working on things, but we haven't had equipment on; we haven't even issued helmets yet."

The issuing of equipment, along with the resumption of contact drills and the playing of games, will now take place in February and March instead of the originally slated Aug. 10 start date for practice and the scheduled Aug. 28 opening night.

With Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker issuing a set of restrictions on high school, youth and adult recreational sports Wednesday afternoon — restrictions that put football in a higher-risk category — some 2020 fall sports seasons are on hold for the time being.

A plan approved by the IHSA's Board of Directors will instead have football taking place in the spring of '21, along with other traditional fall sports such as girls volleyball and boys soccer.

"From my standpoint, I can see both sides," said first-time head coach Clark, who took over at West Carroll after a lengthy career as an assistant at high schools in Alabama and Mississippi. "There are people that will stress safety, and those who say we need football now. There's a lot of kids who haven't done anything for several months now, but I tend to lean on the side of safety."

Clark has good reason to, as the Thunder's summer workouts were recently halted when the parent of a student — not a member of the football squad — tested positive for coronavirus.

"We've had 70% to 80% of our kids show up," he said, "but with this virus, there are some parents who are uneasy about letting their kids go to workouts. The situation we have now, we want to keep our options open."

While Clark has had to contend with an abnormal situation both as a first-year head coach and a newcomer to the region, Henry has had a slightly smoother transition. He has been a part of the Rockets' football staff for nearly two decades, and in 2005 served a one-year stint as Rockridge's head coach.

"I've been fortunate in that I've had good communication with the administration and the coaching staff," Henry said. "Things have been spelled out for us, what to do, and we've done everything in our power. We've taken kids' temperatures when they've checked in, asked them if they're feeling well, showing any symptoms."

With football season now on hold for the time being, Henry can only hope his club will continue to dedicate itself to the challenge of getting the Rockets back to the playoffs after going 4-5 last autumn and missing the postseason for the first time in 10 years.

"This is not ideal, but we've got to make the most of the situation," he said. "I feel like our program has done everything in its power to make the best of this. I'm proud of how our guys have handled this; they've all had a great attitude.

"Our message to the guys is: you can't focus on things you can't control, but you can focus on when the next game is, whether its in the fall or in March."

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