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Kaiser keeping Devils ready for new season
SHS Football
Statesboro head football coach Jeff Kaiser talks to his players during a game against West Laurens last fall. Kaiser is in the process of turning the Blue Devils' program around, but faces a new challenge as he tries to keep his team prepared amidst a school shutdown and limits on team practices and activities.

Last Thursday night the Statesboro Blue Devil football team was supposed to be wrapping up their Spring football practice with a scrimmage against Screven County, unfortunately as is the case everywhere, the Blue Devils have been isolated and unable to even work out together.

“It’s been tough,” said Statesboro coach Jeff Kaiser. “Everybody is anxious, but it’s not as bad as it could be because everyone is in the same boat. There shouldn’t be anyone gaining a competitive advantage right now, because you are not supposed to be doing anything as an organized team.”

Kaiser says the hardest thing about being separated from the team is not seeing the kids on a daily basis.

“Probably the most important thing we do is communicate together,” Kaiser said. “When it’s difficult to communicate, you start to worry about how they are doing, and what they may be doing with their idle time. We just try to remember to only control what you can control, and make the best of it.”

The Statesboro coaching staff have been able to do some meetings through video conferencing, but that comes with limitations.

“We have had a few Zoom team meetings, if for no other reason for me to be able to see the kid’s faces, and for them to see mine,” Kaiser said. “Our defense is staying the way it has, but we are tweaking some things offensively so we try and keep them updated on the things we are working on.”

“Our first meeting we had about 98 percent able to attend, as some have trouble with access to wireless internet,” Kaiser said. “We have also tried to break it down by classes. We had a very good meeting recently with our senior class. Last week we started having individual team meetings by position groups, but our number one reason for all of this is to check on the well being of our kids. We have emailed, called and done all we can to reach everyone. I guarantee you no one out there feels lost.”

One thing that presents a real problem for the coaching staff is finding a way to maintain the strides the players have made in the weight room. 

“It is really disheartening that we will have lost a lot of our gains in the time we will have been apart,” Kaiser said. “We have our boards on the wall in the weight room where your name goes if you meet your maximum requirement. When we took over only six kids made it onto the boards, but most recently our squat board was nearly full, and we had over 20 names on the wall.”

“We have a few kids at home that have access to weight equipment, and are doing it on their own,” Kaiser said. “Every morning I email everyone on the team - including the ninth graders - our work out for the day. It is a 100 percent body weight workout, and no equipment is needed to complete it. Most of our kids are excited and work out every day, but they are all very anxious to get back to a routine and come back.”

The big question is when will they be able to get back together. Kaiser is one of 30 coaches in the state who is a member of the Georgia Football Coaches Association. A group who are trying to put together some ideas for the GHSA in order to get back to work.

“The GHSA may take our recommendations, and ball it up and throw it in the trash can,” Kaiser said. “We feel it will take about six weeks of training to get our kids physically ready to play a football game. Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana all are all beginning a return to action plan for high school athletics, but I really don’t know how long it will be for us.”

“There’s a faction of folks that are saying we shouldn’t have any fall sports, which is the same as the collegiate athletics are facing,” Kaiser said. “If we do play we will need a plan of action. There are some plans I have heard where each coach will only be allowed to have nine players with him, if that’s the case coaches are going to have to pull 12 hour days. I don’t know if we will have to wear masks, or check temperatures and it’s the middle of May so we tend to get a little anxious.”

The biggest problem seems to be that while areas like Bulloch County have not been hit particularly hard by Covid-19, other areas like Atlanta, and Albany were hit pretty severely.

“One of my coaching colleagues in Southwest Georgia said here we are worrying about high school football, while there are people dying around here,” Kaiser said. “I get that, and we are not insensitive to what’s happening in some parts of the state. There is no doubt though that people care about high school football in this state, and are just wanting some kind of direction.”

“I anticipate in the next couple of weeks, at least being told if we can start something in June,” Kaiser said. “We did get some potential good news as the physicals that student athletes took last year are being extended till the end of July. That means we won’t have to scramble around to get everyone's physicals as soon as we get back.”

Statesboro released their 2020 football schedule Monday morning which features a new region as well as some pretty impressive non-region foes. The question remains will they be able to play that full schedule, or a portion of it.

“I’ve heard ideas that range from playing a region only schedule, to playing your schedule from last game to first, in reverse order in case we have to stop again,” Kaiser said. “The problem is some regions have 10 teams, and some only four. There are some schools who the majority of games are played in a different state, and what will that state decide to do? I don’t envy the people that have to make these decisions.”