Randy Wolff posts workouts and words of encouragement on the Western Wayne Football Facebook page.
George Howanitz stays in touch with his assistant coaches through text messages and phone calls.
Staffs at schools around the Lackawanna Football Conference are meeting via online conferences.
It’s all coaches can do in preparation for a fall season that is in jeopardy.
Buildings are closed. Weight rooms and stadiums are off limits. Students are at home.
This is an offseason like no other for high school football coaches and players.
They are balancing the need to stay positive with the uncertainty that clouds a waiting game concerning the approaching season as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
“The first thing I am doing is touching base with them and making sure the kids and their families are safe and emphasizing to them to follow the health and safety at home, so we can beat this thing,” Wolff said. “As for football, these are teenagers and they need that guidance and that push. You have those who are super motivated, but there is a majority that really need that supervision and teaching. You are talking about the future and reaping those benefits of the hard work in the fall. Here we don’t have that. They are not around each other and building that brotherhood in the weight room that carries them through the season.”
During the offseason, players develop their strength by lifting weights to prepare for the physical demands of the sport. Coaches teach the athletes about the football program and what is expected of them academically and athletically. They introduce them to game plans, strategy, techniques and responsibilities. In football, success is built through a commitment to weight training and a and players working together as a team.
“We are giving them workouts with a lot of body weight activity,” Wolff said. “Being in the weight room and seeing the gains with your friends is hard to simulate online, but we are having them do a lot of body squats, wall sit ups, push ups and planks. With technology today, there are so many workouts, the main thing is encouraging them to do them with an emphasis on their importance, so whenever we do get back to football they can be ready to compete safely.”
Usually, many football players are involved in spring sports, so there isn’t an intense sense of urgency. Those athletes are mostly missing out on organized group gatherings in the weight room and as they familiarize themselves with a program’s terminology.
However, each day during the shutdown is another lost on the way to July 1, which is when teams can officially conduct practices without pads. The five-day required heat acclimatization period is scheduled to start Aug. 10. The first day of practice in pads is Aug. 17 and the first league games are set for the weekend of Aug. 28-29.
It is not just the players’ preparation that is affected. Coaches meet regularly as a staff during this time to review schemes, initiate changes in practice protocol, and prepare for the summer months that are often filled with weight lifting sessions, conditioning and 7-on-7 schedules. There is also discussion on position changes and early projections for depth charts.
“Right now, we have a group text where we bounce some ideas off each other,” said George Howanitz, who has guided Valley View to three straight District 2 Class 4A title games. “There are a lot of online sites with free coaching clinics, which we are looking at right now. I have sent a bunch of our kids stuff they can do at home. There are a lot of great football sites online, too, where you can get drills for at home use. There are a lot of things out there.
“It’s all you can do right now.”
Dunmore coach Kevin McHale is using this time to stay in contact with players, especially freshmen who will enter their sophomore year and are new to varsity football.
There is a learning curve for them and for upperclassmen who are going to have new roles or increased responsibilities.
More importantly, he stressed to stay disciplined in their classroom work as schools implement online learning services for the end of this academic year.
“We are reaching out to them and making sure they have computers and are staying engaged academically first, then getting their workouts in to the best of their ability,” McHale said. “We also encourage them to be creative with workouts because they don’t have access to the amount of weight or equipment we have at the weight room. We are encouraging more film study on Hudl. Our assistant coaches have been pitching in with videos on tackling and blocking.
“The more we can give them now online or on Hudl, when we reconvene whether it is July 1, Aug. 1 or Sept. 1, they will be familiar and more knowledgeable about the X’s and the O’s.”
For Dennis Hricenak, the layoff and seclusion creates additional challenges as he enters his first year as a head coach at West Scranton.
He held a re-organizational meeting after his hiring in February and started to build relationships with the players. He had an encouraging start to the weight room workouts and is using as many avenues to stay in touch with players.
“Right now, I am making sure they are keeping up with their school work and doing workouts,” Hricenak said. “It’s going to be a crash course for these kids. As a staff, we are going to try to be as positive as we can. You don’t want to cram too much into them. We are going to make sure they have enough of the knowledge they need and be safe in making sure they are healthy and physically ready for the grind. There is going to be a lot of trial and error this summer.
“It’s going to be difficult, but everybody is dealing with this and the whole league is going to work together to get off on the right foot.”
Ray Melnikoff, a senior and two-time All-Region player from Lackawanna Trail, is doing the best he can to stay positive. He knows the sacrifices and dedication needed for success as he helped lead the Lions to the PIAA Class 1A final in 2018 and the semifinals last fall. He is hoping to build off a career that includes 3,024 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns with 509 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
“I am trying to do the things I can to stay in shape by working out every day,” Melnikoff said. “I am talking to the guys pretty much every day. There are some younger kids who are a little worried, so I am trying to keep everyone motivated and ready for when we eventually get the season started. I am nervous about not being able to play. Hopefully by summer we can practice and we can get things started.
“But, for now, I just am doing what I can every day to be ready as if we are playing.”
Joby Fawcett has covered high school sports — including football, girls and boys volleyball, girls and boys tennis, girls and boys swimming, boys basketball, girls and boys track and field, and girls and boys lacrosse — for 22 years. The High School Sports Blog offers deeper insights plus statistical and historical information for fans and features photos, videos and graphics along with Top 5 polls for tennis and volleyball. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5367; @sportsTT