For East St. John coaches and players, like at most every other school, the coronavirus pandemic has caused everyone to look at things differently from past years.
“We are taking a different approach – not so much just focused on football,” East St. John coach Brandon Brown said earlier in the week. “We are just focused on building that relationship. We are just trying to get out kids back acclimated to just being out. Our kids have been cooped up in the house since March.”
“It’s been difficult,” he continued. “Some of them have lost family members. It may not have been a close relative, maybe an aunt or someone in the family. With kids, you don’t know how it will affect them so we don’t push the issue. It’s bigger than football. We are an extended part of your family. If you want to talk, we are here. Kids who are 15, 16 years old, are not going to want to open up and talk so we engage in the conversation.
“We talk about character development and being good citizens in the community. We want our kids to understand that this is much bigger than football. COVID-19 showed us that.”
It was has made the routine not so routine.
“We have two entry points in our building,” Brown explained. “We have an A group and a B group. The A group gets checked in and they go straight to the weight room after temperature checks, questionnaires and all that stuff. The B group checks in on the outside in the back (of the athletic building) because they go immediately to conditioning. We don’t let those kids’ paths cross. Because it’s been so wet with it raining, they check in, do their conditioning in the gym, and then come out of the gym.
“The biggest thing is keeping them in their pods. You talk about kids that have not been around each other since March. We want to be together. We kind of educated our kids that whenever we would have come back, this is our new normal. This is what we have to do. As much as you want to be around one another, you can’t. Everything has changed for us.”
Whatever it might be called – new routine or new normal – players are under strict protocols when it comes to safety practices while working out on campus. That may work well on school grounds, but there is life beyond the campus.
“That’s the biggest challenge,” said Brown. “Even moving forward and we talk about playing ball, we don’t know the situations that happen when they leave us. We don’t know how other teams are conducting their business.”
“It’s almost a scary situation because we know the things we are doing but it’s hard to say what’s happening elsewhere,” the East St. John coach continued. “I told our coaches that one of the things we may have to do is figure out a way to education our parents as well. The kids, they know. They are in a routine of getting checks and this will happen and that will happen. We know everything has to be sanitized. We know we can’t hang out in the weight room. They understand that, but how much do their parents really know? They may be staying home to stay safe but how much are you sanitizing? How much are you cleaning? They may not know that.”
One thing the Wildcats have learned through it all, Brown said, is that time is precious.
“We talk about seizing the moment and taking care of every little thing,” said Brown. “I think now, it’s a different level of commitment from the kids. Kids take everything for granted. They don’t realize that their window of opportunity is closing until it’s too late. Now, with this, every day matters. Every second counts. The attitudes have been different. The work has been different. It’s almost like the kids have a sense of, ‘hey, we may not get a chance to play this year, so we better enjoy these moments.’ That’s kind of been the attitude around the building.”