Prep Football

Work to be done: area football coaches keep players motivated to stay active

Flinn Stadium on Saturday, Apr. 11, 2020. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 14, 2020 12:01 am

On the Missouri side of the Mississippi River, spring sports are officially canceled.

In Illinois, the spring season is still on hold and the likelihood of its cancellation grows with every confirmed case of coronavirus in the Land of Lincoln.

What remains to be seen is the affect the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the fall sports season.

As of now, there is no indication that fall sports are at risk of not playing, but the postponement and cancellations of spring seasons are already taking a toll.

"I've always said the best way for a football player to stay in shape is to do a spring sport," Clark County football coach Ethan Allen said. "As a spring coach in track, I encourage those guys to come out for track or play baseball because I feel like our best teams have our best people doing other stuff. We are kind of behind already, just because we haven't had that exposure we've typically had with our spring sports.

"I think our spring coaches do a phenomenal job of keeping kids in shape, and in some ways they are in better shape after running track or playing baseball."

Not only are athletes who typically play in the spring at the very least not getting their usual season, they are barred from participating in team events with coaches and players while school isn't in session. That doesn't mean coaches are taking a break.

The Quincy High School football team has posted daily workout updates on its social media accounts since March 27 for Blue Devils athletes to complete at home, all curated by strength and conditioning coach Kirkland Burton.

"Obviously we're not seeing them on a day-to-day basis and we're not meeting up with them, but you can see the number of views and how much the workouts have been looked at," QHS football coach Rick Little said. "Kirkland put out a couple of them and asked them to send in a video of them doing their home workouts to incorporate in his videos. Right now you look for positives and continue to work outside the box a little bit."

Quincy Notre Dame football coach Jack Cornell and his staff have also done their part to keep kids active and improving amid stay-at-home orders and gym closures, but ultimately the motivation to put in work won't come from the coaches.

"I think what's more important is these guys have got to want it," Cornell, who led the Raiders to the Class 2A state semifinals for the third time in program history last fall, said. "They've got to see what is at stake here and know that everybody is going through the same thing. It's what they are doing right now that is going to separate good from great come the fall."

Allen and Clark County reached the Missouri Class 2 state semifinals for the second time in three years last season. He feels the strength of the Indians' program is its player leadership, and that will have to guide them through this time.

"I think our core group coming back definitely knows what's expected. They know what it's going to take to put in the time and the energy to be in shape and get into our playbook, to put that added time in during the offseason," Allen said. "I feel pretty confident that those guys still have that vision. They know and they want what we've been doing to continue, and I think they will take that to heart for when we do start."

Many juniors have been immediately thrust into the leadership role as incoming seniors during a crisis. Little expects his senior class to rise to the occasion.

"They are the face of the team, each and every year. Every year that changes, but we have another good group of seniors coming up that are focused on football and it's important to them," Little said. "They have been in the program long enough and they understand and realize that continuing to workout even though we're not able to meet is a big deal."

The evolving nature of efforts to curtail the spread of the pandemic make planning for the future a challenge. Both Illinois and Missouri allow a certain number of contact days for football teams in the summer to prepare for the season, but depending on how long group gathering bans and stay-at-home orders last, those days could be affected.

"We are trying to make a plan, but a lot of it is up in the air just because we don't know when it's going to come to an end and what kind of constraints we are going to have when it does," Cornell said. "A lot of it is wait and see, but my coaches and players have kept in contact. We are just going to take it all in stride and handle it as it comes."

While planning for the ever-changing future, coaches are also taking the time to remember their former players who didn't get to finish the year how they had planned.

"I feel terrible for all the seniors around, not just our guys or girls," Allen said "It's taken a lot away from what those kids put a ton of time into. I know I can speak for our kids that they are so dedicated to the weightroom and the offseason and working to get to where they are competing at the highest level.

"I could just go down the list of guys or girls that were so close in a lot of ways that don't get that opportunity this year. For the seniors, I think that's terrible."