The West St. John Rams could have started fall football practice a couple of weeks earlier but when it was announced the state was extended Phase Two because of coronavirus concerns, a decision to hold off proved to get excellent timing.
“Those weeks we took off, we normally have fall camp here at the school and we will take that week off leading up to school to kind of get them the chance to get ready for school and whatever,” WSJ coach Brandon Walters said at the Rams’ first practice on Tuesday afternoon. “Since there are so many crazy things going on, I gave them that same window of time and added another week to it and are back at it now.
“We are going to try and shorten the weeks, only going three days and still try to get in as much as we can and teach as much as we can and still try to keep everybody safe.”
The first day of practice came one day after teacher’s reported for work at West St. John. The first day for students for virtual learners is August 31. For students who will be in-school hybrid learners, classes begin September 8 amid COVID-19.
“I’m still pretty skeptical about everything. I’m a father myself. I’m a parent first. My concern is for the health of the kids. I didn’t want to rush right out into it. I felt we got a lot of good work in this summer and we were fortunate to not have any problems,” said Walters.
The Rams were working out without helmets for shoulder pads the first day of practice.
“We will eventually (put on helmets and pads) but I’m not too gung-ho about that,” Walters said. “We are not going to hit anybody. To me, helmets are just something else you have to touch, keep clean and all of that. I don’t really like them to bring them home and maybe somebody may forget something. We will stay out of the helmets and stuff for right now. We can get done what we need to get done without them. We can always get acclimated with this heat whether you have a helmet on or not. We will get back to that eventually.”
Practice may be taking place without helmets or pads, but for players, just being back out on the field seems to bring the season a bit closer.
“It’s good to come out here right now,” said WSJ offensive lineman Jason August. “We’ve been waiting to get to the football season. They’ve been saying we may have no season, but we are ready to get back into it and get our first game going and get back into it.”
“It feels good,” said quarterback Ferdinand Young. “We had a week off and we had a couple of guys that came back (to the team).”
“Right now, we are working on our craft. We will have to get acclimated to the weather with the helmets and shoulder pads but right now, we are working on our craft, on our feet to get faster, get stronger, get bigger and we will dominate this year,” said Jaydon Hamilton, who is expected to see a lot of time at defensive back, running back, and kick returner.
West St. John features a squad of typically smaller numbers associated with a Class 1A program, but the timing of practice was not dictated by squad size, according to Walters.
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” the West St. John coach said. “The numbers help when it’s time to play people. When it’s time to practice and get things done, that helps also. But I would follow the same things if it was 100 or 200. The health is the same and keeping them safe. Having more kids means you have to do a little more separating and be a little more conscious with what you are doing with them. It wouldn’t make a difference. I like where we are and the pace of what we’ve done so far.”
No matter when games might be played, the message for Walters to his team is to be ready.
“I try to tell the guys that you are working toward something. Hopefully, we will get to play this year. Even if it’s pushed back to the spring, we will still be ready. We don’t want to just sit around and twiddle our thumps waiting for something to happen. We want to make sure the guys are ready and prepared mentally and we are just using this as a lot more time we can utilize to teach them,” Walters said.