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Slow steps forward for area football squads
SHS Football
Statesboro quarterback Mason Hudgens hands off to Aundrell Grace while Jalin Mikel takes off downfield and A.J. Eason looks on during a newly-expanded practice session at Womack Field on Monday. - photo by JOSH AUBREY/staff

Area high school football teams continue to progress, as the Georgia High School Association continues to lift restrictions put in place due to Covid-19.

Last week the GHSA allowed schools to move from allowing only 20 in a group, to 25. This week that number was extended from 25 to 50. This week the GHSA also started allowing schools to use a football in practice, though no helmets, pads or contact is allowed yet.

“You can’t just throw 50 kids in a group, but you can combine two groups, which is what we did,” said Statesboro High coach Jeff Kaiser. “We combined a couple of groups to help shorten the day. The big difference is now being able to use a football in practice, which really helps with our skill position guys.”

“We have actually enjoyed how we have worked this month,” Kaiser said. “I don’t feel we are too far behind where we were at this point last year. We just have our fingers crossed that we can continue to progress unscathed.” 

In Brooklet the Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets have combined a couple of groups, and have started doing more work outdoors. In addition the Jackets have been able to work on offense and defensive skill situations, as well as extend their practice sessions.

“We went from four groups down to two, which allowed us to extend their sessions as well,” said Southeast Bulloch coach Barrett Davis. “With our younger kids we have just stuck to lifting weights and doing some light work on the field with a football. With our older kids we have gone a little bit longer with their session. We have some doing agility work and some lifting weights and then we go out on the field for the next 45 minutes and get some work in on the field.”

“It’s not the normal summer for sure, but we feel like we have made some really good progress,” Davis said. “Our kids were very excited when they heard we can finally break out a ball and run through some plays. We haven’t used much equipment like tackling dummies and things like that, because the more you add the more cleaning you have to do, and the less time they have to really work.”

For the Portal Panthers spring practice has not been a part of the football schedule for the past few years, so they weren’t affected as much by the March stoppage of play. The Panthers are also the smallest of all the schools, so combining groups was not necessary, the only real change was adding the ability to use a football in drills.

“In June we typically work more on weights and conditioning,” said Portal coach Matt Smith. “You are still very limited in what you are able to do, with the restrictions. You can’t do one on one drills, only throwing and running the ball with no defense. Running routes and things like that are good for timing, but we are still severely limited.”

While Statesboro High, Southeast Bulloch and Portal have not had any players test positive for Covid-19, that has not been the case in some nearby counties. Tattnall County, Long County Glynn Academy, and most recently Effingham County have all decided to shut down practices due to positive testing.

“It’s out there for sure,” Kaiser said. “We are seeing the numbers of young people affected increasing. All we can control is what we can control, and make sure we are taking care of business and being safe. It definitely worries me to see the numbers going up. In the grand scheme of things the most important thing is everyone’s health. For the administration the top priority has to be figuring out how we can get back to school, athletics is secondary.”

“We are optimistic that somehow we will be able to stay healthy,” Davis said. “It seems like things have been pretty good here in Bulloch County so far. I know there’s a chance that when we get going some schools could be hit with positive cases. Hopefully between the GHSA and our local Board of Education things can be put in place to try and determine how we would progress if that were to happen.”

“I would think if positive cases do appear during the season the smaller schools would be affected the most,” said Smith. “A school like Statesboro with over 100 players could probably keep on going if they were to have even five to ten cases pop up. For a school like us, I’m not sure we could keep going if that many players were affected.”

All Georgia High School athletics will be in a dead period the week of June 29th through July 3rd, which is known as the dead period. GHSA member schools are anticipating hearing from GHSA officials between now and the end of the dead period as to restrictions being added, or lifted for practice beginning July 6th.