“We’ve embraced COVID.”
That’s a phrase you will rarely hear in the age of the coronavirus, but those were the words of East St. John football coach Brandon Brown on Thursday as he and his Wildcats try to make the best of a trying situation.
“It’s given us a chance to just build better relationships,” the third-year East St. John coach said. “As coaches, you get so caught up in football, football, football, and this time with us still in Phase Two we can’t do much contact, it gives us a chance to teach more and give us a chance to do a better job to get our kids prepared.”
Because of safety restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wildcat still have not put on shoulder pads despite having been in official fall workouts for two weeks.
“That’s just kind of a coaching decision,” said Brown. “We want to be as safe as possible but once the pads come on, the kids will want to be engaged in contact. We want to keep them safe right now and stay away from that but at some point, it has to come on. We don’t want to beat them up, as well. We want them to be ready to go in October.”
Putting on the shoulder pads begins next week for the Wildcats. ESJ practiced in the morning during early fall drills but with teachers reporting to school on Monday and the student starting virtual learning the day after Labor Day, the team will transition to a normal in-school practice routine.
“For us, we will be more in football mode (starting next week),” Brown said. “There will be a sense of normalcy with the kids going to practice after school.
“For the time being, we are going to teach, teach, and teach. That’s the biggest thing right now, just getting the mental part down.”
Coronavirus already has cost teams the first two weeks of the regular season and the starting date of the regular season seems to be a moving target. That makes keeping players motivated over the long haul a challenge.
“As a coaching staff, we have broken things down and are teaching certain concepts and installing certain things on certain days. I think it’s exciting for the kids,” Brown said. “We are not throwing a lot at them at once, which is good. If things were normal, we would be playing a fall scrimmage in a week or so. What is happening now is we are kind of spoon-feeding them. We throw it out there, but the next day, they know it will be something new. New concepts will be taught, new drills will be thought and that’s keeping them kind of fired up and motivated.”
Several Wildcat players echoed their coach’s sentiment.
“There are a lot of things we can’t do right now. We should have pads on right now. Actually, we would be having a scrimmage next week. We are still fighting through adversity but there’s still a lot of things we are able to do, too,” said senior outside linebacker Jackie Marshall, a Baylor commitment.
“Every day, you still have to come out here and work,” said senior quarterback Marcus Jackson. “Every day, you have to push to get better. You must stay ready to play. You are a senior; you have to be ready to play. Your time could come at any time.”
“It feels good to be out here with the helmets on and not just running around and conditioning all day. We are actually going through some football stuff to get ready for the season when the time comes,” said senior defensive lineman Welland Williams, a McNeese State commitment.
The team’s football helmets also are a symbol of motivation for the Wildcats.
On one said of the helmet is a large “E” since it’s “All about the ‘E’ at East St. John.
The other side of the helmet is blank. There’s where the players’ jersey number will be place – once they have earned it.
“This part of training camp is part of the process of earning your number. Not one kid has a number yet,” said Brown.
“You come in and you work hard all summer. No part should be easy. You earn your number. You have to work to get it,” Williams said.