GRAYLING — As the first week of practice came to a close, everyone grew more excited about the prospects of there actually being a football season this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The coaching staff huddled to go over plans for the next week, and the players anticipated receiving their pads on Monday after being restricted to just wearing helmets with their shirts and shorts.
But those expectations were crushed when the Michigan High School Athletic Association sacked the football season, shutting it down just four days after allowing the start of practice with helmets only.
It wasn’t a complete cancellation, however. The association is currently planning for football to be played in the spring, while making sure not to have athletes forced to make a choice between their regular spring sports and football. Details will be hashed out over the next few months.
“Seeing the MAC (Mid American Conference) and Big 10 cancel, we had it in the back of our heads that it would be challenging to go, but I told the kids that every day that we got was another day to play football and get better,” Grayling head coach Eric Tunney said.
“I was transparent with them, and said I didn’t have any answers. I didn’t know if we’d get to play. We’re hopeful and we’re going to prepare like Aug. 27 we’re playing Roscommon, and that’s all we can do. Control what we can, and go with it.
“Getting the message last Friday was tough. Especially after we finished the first week and handed the gear out, and were ready to tackle on Monday. It was definitely a gut punch. But, we’re hopeful we can salvage something and do have a season in the spring.”
Although it was a difficult pill to swallow after they’d gotten their hopes up, Tunney said the other side of the coin was that the Vikings had 10 days of practice they would not have had.
Tunney felt it was good for the kids to come out and work out together, if social distanced and no high fives or hand slaps allowed, to finally have a positive feeling about things for a time.
“We’ve been doing conditioning and strength training stuff since June, but it was just good to play football, even if it was just in helmets,” added Tunney. “Obviously, it was different. I’m thankful that we at least had a week.
“But, it did make it harder because each day that went on you kind of got your hopes up a little bit more. I feel bad especially for the seniors to have it still in the air. I know we’re planning on spring, but that poses some challenges, especially in northern Michigan.”
Teams are permitted 16 practice dates until Oct. 31, although they will not be able to wear pads and can only go in helmets. It’s voluntary, but Tunney expects most of his guys to participate.
Preparing for a spring season will be different as well, without a week of two-a-days and probably no pre-season scrimmages scheduled before action begins for real.
“Hopefully we can take advantage of the 16 dates, and get a lot of stuff installed and be ready to go if and when we get the green light in the spring,” Tunney said. “I don’t foresee us having a normal nine game season with playoffs.
“I think that’ll be condensed somewhat, and playoffs will be modified. March 1 we still have quite a bit of snow on the ground up here, so I don’t know if they’re thinking about that.
“Football is unique. They’ve talked about keeping the fields cleared all winter. I don’t know. We’re in uncharted territory, but we’re going to do what we can to try and make sure these seniors have a senior year of football.”
So the Vikings will take spring football. Even it means bundling up and conducting tackling drills outside in the cold weather. Or even playing with snow on the ground.
It’s better than no football at all.