Friday was supposed to mark the halfway point in the fall high school football season.
COVID-19 changed that.
Due to the pandemic, the VHSL voted to shift the high school fall sports season to the spring. Local football coaches and players are hoping to be able to return to the gridiron in February.
While the stands remain empty on Friday nights this fall, new Madison County football coach Larry Helmick and first-year Monticello coach Matt Hicks are trying to make the most of the additional preparation time to put their stamp on their new programs.
“I’m always going to find the positive in every situation,” Helmick said. “Knowing that COVID is an awful situation, the extra time to focus on fundamentals and for the staff and athletes to build relationships has been awesome. If we only had a month to prepare, we would have rushed through fundamental work and still be trying to build a rapport with one another.”
The two coaches were officially named to their new posts during the pandemic, which made simple introductions to the team tedious.
“It has been a challenging start,” Hicks said. “I was actually supposed to be introduced to the school and team the week after schools closed. At that point, I could not have imagined how long we would be out. That said, we have fantastic players and I have an amazing staff of veteran coaches who have been with the school for years.”
Hicks made the most of the situation by arranging virtual meetings with players and coaches and settting up weekly interactions to pass along offseason conditioning plans to players in preparation for the season.
“I’m very happy about what we have been able to do with our virtual team sessions,” Hicks said.
While in-person workouts have been few and far between, Hicks has tried to make the most of the situation.
“It has been a great time to slow down, build relationships and establish relationships with players and coaches,” Hicks said. “We hope to be able to resume in-person workouts in November, which will be a huge step for our program’s growth.”
Helmick was named coach at Madison County in May and worked quickly to put his plan in place. The Mountaineers held offseason conditioning workouts in July and started official workouts as a team Sept. 10. More than a month into workouts, the former Eastern View offensive line coach likes what he’s seen.
“It’s been good,” Helmick said. “The staff and athletes have started to make great relationships with one another. We have done a tremendous amount of teaching fundamentals, which is very important, and sometimes overlooked or not as in-depth when trying to get ready for a new season. It has also been very beneficial for the athletes and coaches getting accustomed with the new scheme and expectations. I’m very pleased with the athletes we have and how committed they have been thus far.”
In Charlottesville, Albemarle County’s School Board voted last week to move to Stage 3 of reopening during the second quarter, which could mean that athletic workouts would return next month.
Hicks welcomes that opportunity.
“The guys are very excited to get back to work,” Hicks said. “I miss the ability to spend time together with our young men and build relationships. That’s the key to success and that’s where the joy in coaching comes from.”
“The most challenging thing for me is not seeing the athletes and other students in the school,” he said. “The staff, the athletes and the community are in a great place right now. It’s very important for us all to be on the same page because it takes a village to instill a new culture. I feel the excitement is still up. Everyone’s anxious to get on the field.”
The bond of a high school football team is built in the offseason, whether it’s in the weight room or grinding out reps in the summer heat in preparation for Friday nights. Both coaches are eager to put their stamp on their programs.
“We have accomplished a lot but we know the reality of how much more there is to do,” Hicks said. “We have to maximize the opportunities that we will be getting to train together, learn together and work together in order to achieve our goals.”
Helmick is ready to tackle the challenge.
“I’m a perfectionist, so I’m always going to be fighting and working to be perfect,” Helmick said. “The beauty is that is nothing is ever perfect, so I will always find things we can improve and work on. We will continue to grind and work as hard as we can to compete with teams in our district.”