Spring practices were not the same for East Union’s football team.
Head coach Willie Herrera and his staff regularly met with players through video conferences, but football was hardly discussed.
“This year, we couldn’t do anything,” Herrera said.
That hasn’t changed as schools begin summer break. The waiting game continues for all fall sports athletes in the area.
Local school districts are not allowing teams to gather for their usual summer programs as the state continues to settle into Phase 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-step process toward ending the stay-at-home order implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In the meantime, coaches may not assign or supervise workouts for their athletes. Herrera said his team has been forced to take a different approach as the Lancers prepare for the season — and he remains optimistic that there will be one. Over the spring, he and his assistants contacted players mainly to check in and offer any help with school work.
“We had to come up with a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C,” Herrera said. “Well, Plan A and B are no bueno, according to the state, district and school site, so we’re down to Plan C. With the kids doing everything online and distance learning, there was only so much we could do.
“What I was doing on my end was just going over character and culture aspects of our program. We’ve spent a lot of time developing our kids mentally. Other than that, it’s on our young men to get their own work in right now.”
Sierra running back Kimoni Stanley is trying his best to keep up while recovering from a shoulder injury sustained during his junior season. He heads to a nearby park every morning to do cone and ladder drills, looking to improve his agility as he transitions from the linebacker position to cornerback on defense. On occasion, he gets together with now-graduated former teammates for workouts.
Stanley and the Timberwolves are coming off a successful 2019 campaign in which they finished 11-4 and claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV title. Stanley compiled 2,112 yards and 33 touchdowns while setting a new single-season rushing record for Sierra. With 3,399 yards and 48 touchdowns over two years, Stanley ranks third behind Mark Paule (3,546 yards, 60 TDs) and Anthony Cota (3,543-62) on the all-time career rushing list.
“I’m just treating it like we still have a season,” Stanley said. “I have the same mind set. Basically, I’m not going to just sit here as if there isn’t going to be a season, because if I do that I’m not going to be fully motivated to work out.”
Ripon head coach Chris Musseman is hoping he can soon begin to organize and oversee his players’ workouts, even from a distance. For now, Musseman said his limited interaction include short notes of encouragement and reminders to help keep the players engaged.
“Even if it’s not football related, I think it’s really important for them to be out there exercising,” Musseman said. “They need this outlet, and so do I.”
Musseman and the Indians enjoyed a successful 2019 season in which they captured the California Interscholastic Federation Division IV-AA state championship and the Cal-Hi Sports Small Schools Team of the Year award. Musseman was named Cal-Hi Sports Small Schools State Coach of the Year.
That team has lost its core group of seniors to graduation, so the offseason program was vital for the reloading Indians.
“We’re going to be inexperienced and younger,” Musseman said. “I’m not so much concerned about the ‘Xs’ and ‘Os’ of football, I’m more concerned about learning together and developing that trust and respect. It’s difficult to do that when you can’t come together.
“You can have all the talent, but if your team is not a team you’re not going to be successful. In the summertime and with physical conditioning is when you have that shared adversity, and we may not be able to do that.”
Another concern is the competitive advantage out-of-area opponents may gain, as some schools in other counties are preparing for summer training in the coming weeks.
“It stinks for us,” Herrera said. “We might be one of the last ones to get the okay. It’s a bummer to know that your opponents have extra time to prepare. We can’t control that, so we’ll just control what we can control and get the most out of what we can do.”
If there’s one thing they all miss most, it’s the daily interactions with players and coaches.
“It’s different,” Stanley said. “We have new people coming out to play and I don’t get the chance to meet them or bond with them because of all of this. I don’t think that’s going to stop us. As a team, we’ll probably find ways to keep in touch. That’s just how Sierra is. We like to make our teammates feel welcome.”