Clarke Central High School senior Montavious Cunnigham brought out a few candid words that earned a few chuckles from the small group of people gathered at the Clarke-Oconee High School Football Media Day on Monday.
“I haven’t even met him,” Cunnigham said when asked about the Gladiators’ new quarterback.
Monday was the first day in which high school football teams could practice as one. It was the beginning of the five-day acclimation period before teams are allowed to practice in pads.
It’s a common occurrence in the current atmosphere of high school football that many of the student athletes haven’t met their new teammates.
The summer wasn’t one of team bonding as it usually is. Student athletes couldn’t workout together in groups larger than 50 until Monday.
The Georgia High School Association moved the start of real football games back to Sept. 4. The start of the season was originally set for Aug. 21. The practices seen on Monday and the rest of the week probably didn’t look much different than they had the week prior. Teams could practice in helmets at the beginning of last week.
Monday acted as an orientation day. Players met. Coaches experienced steering their largest group of players while remaining cognizant of the guidelines in place to help with the spread of COVID-19.
“It was one of those days where we had to practice practicing,” Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander said. “We had to teach a lot. I learned a lot. We’re trying to get better at the social distancing while playing football… It’s been fun. We’ve had to become creative. We’ve learned a lot the last four months about how to practice and do things differently.”
Players felt the energy of being another step closer to a real football season. Players are considering that there is a possibility that tomorrow’s practice isn’t promised to them. Just this week six high schools across the state were forced to halt practices due to positive COVID-19 tests. The Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported that there have already been 655 cases reported to the GHSA since June 8 when summer workouts began. Coaches and players alike are living in the moment more than ever.
“You saw it in the weight room,” Aurandt said. “You saw it on the field today. You could tell that they were pouring everything into that moment. They don’t know how many more moments they’re going to get. Hopefully, its 15 more weeks of this. That’s what we all hope to see. You never know. Who knows what’s going to happen? Them knowing every moment matters and it’s one more opportunity for them to be together as a group. That means a lot to them.”
The first day of acclimation comes usually as beginning of preparation for games. Coaches usually have a sense of who their team is due to spring practice and summer work. Monday, many of the slots on the field remained up for grabs. It’s a new experience for coaches to build a team this late into the process of starting a football season.
“Usually by this time we’ve decided who the 11 are on offense and defense,” Alexander said. “We’ve got to replace some good seniors that we lost last year. We’ve got to find someone who can kick the football. There are a lot of holes at Athens Academy. We just haven’t had the time to figure it out.”