The Bryant Hornets football team hadn’t had their pads on for practice since the end of the 2019 State championship game against the North Little Rock Charging Wildcats.
And more than that.
“Really, the first time we ran a play as a team was Wednesday, since the State championship game,” said Hornets head coach Buck James. “We still can’t do it against a defense or anything like that. We just ran a play and that was the first time we’ve been able to do that. We’ve been out here throwing routes. We’ve been out here taking steps with our linemen but not with another guy facing you.
“We had to go through the acclimation process. Monday and Tuesday were helmets then Wednesday we could put on shoulder pads,” he continued. “We can’t hit anything but dummies and sleds. Saturday’s the first official day that we can have full pads on and have some contact.
“We’re not going to do a lot of contact,” the coach related. “We’re just going to get out here and thud each other so we can just simulate what we want it to look like and get a good teaching moment on film. We’re not going to tackle or anything like that.
“And that’s going to be hard for our kids to do. They want to play football. But we’ve got to get them ready to play football in the safest way. We’ve always been good about not having injuries and things like that. You know, that’s a process. So, we’re in the middle of that process right now, trying to expedite it to get these guys ready.”
The scrimmage, such as it is, will be from 9 to 11 a.m., but, due to COVID19, no fans or parents will be allowed to attend.
It was an odd off-season for the Hornets and all of high school football after spring sports and schools were shut down in the spring in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“There’s been absolutely nothing normal,” James acknowledged, “but I tell you the kids’ attitudes have been tremendous; their willingness to want to play and do what they’re supposed to do. It’s been really overwhelming. I’m proud of these guys.
“We’re not anywhere near where we need to be, by any means, but I like their attitude,” he asserted. “I like their effort. I like their zest for wanting to be able to do this. Our attitudes have been good.”
Everything, of course, is tentative but, at this point, everyone’s planning on a full and complete season. But there’s always the specter of the virus and its spread, and the potential for fall sports to be shut down like spring sports were.
“We just really had a version of off-season, June and July,” said James. “We did what we could do to be able to get kids ready with all the space limitations and the amount of kids you could have in.
“We started at 5:30 in the morning. We had six groups from there, from 5:30 to 11 o’clock, and they came in every hour. Coaches were getting here at 4 in the morning to get everything ready. So, it was a long day for us. The kids stayed about an hour, hour and a half. We’d have two groups here at one time, but one would be out on the field and one group would be in the weight room.”
The potential of not having a season, of not being able to contend for a third consecutive State championship, was on the minds of the players and made them relish a return to full practice.
“Like I said, our zest, our willingness to want to do what we’re supposed to do was good,” James reiterated. “On the back side of that, we had 80 kids that missed two days or more, and some for legitimate reasons; some because there really wasn’t any kind of real structure.
“We have to overcome things we weren’t able to do, especially as a group or a team. I think those are the things that we’re really trying to focus on right now.
“I mean these guys got one shot at this, our seniors especially,” the coach said. “You know, one thing about big-school football, sometimes you have to be patient. Sometimes guys don’t play until they’re juniors and seniors. They put a lot of work into this part right now.
“Really, it’s just our young guys that are having a tough time because they don’t know what to expect or what to do,” he noted. “They didn’t get any of the off-season. They didn’t get any of the summer. They didn’t get any spring. So, they’re the guys that have really suffered, as far as being ready. I think our upper classmen have done a really good job.
“In saying that though, I think our sophomores are very talented. They show a lot of athleticism. They show a whole lot of love for the game. The only thing is they just don’t know what they don’t know yet. So, we’re trying to get through that.
“I’m proud of the effort,” James concluded. “We’ve got 145 kids out here and they’ve done a great job of doing what they’re supposed to do.”