The high school football season was supposed to start tonight but instead, stadiums across the area will be empty.
There will be no football this fall in Virginia due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, the Virginia High School League elected to move football to the spring, with the first games potentially starting as early as Feb. 22. The VHSL this week came up with a draft of a plan that would have the football practices starting on Feb. 4 and playing six games in the regular season. Virginia is one of 19 states that has pushed its football season back to early 2021.
Although they’ve had a month to get used to the idea it has still been hard for local players to adjust to a fall without football. Skyline senior offensive/defensive lineman Will Wolf said he and his teammates were excited about the start of the season and now that excitement has been put on hold.
“It’s starting to sink in,” Wolf said last week of not playing in the fall. “Because you think we would be practicing right now with a regular year. Our first week of camp would have been last weekend. All this stuff starts to add up and you say ‘man, I miss it.’”
All of the teams have been doing offseason workouts, conditioning and weight lifting, but the players know it’s not quite the same as playing during an actual season.
Strasburg senior running back Jesse Funkhouser said things won’t feel the same this fall.
“I feel like in Strasburg Friday nights on the football field are like insane because the whole town comes,” Funkhouser said. “It’s just so electric and that’s my favorite part of the year, is just playing home games or even away games, too. I just love playing football, and it’s going to be so much different without it.”
Warren County senior wide receiver Logan DeHaven said that it has sunk in, but it still feels strange and he will miss it.
“It’s crazy – there’s no other word for it,” DeHaven said. “It’s so different this year. Nobody’s used to it, but we have to persevere and get through it. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Wolf said things weren’t all bad this summer. He said he was able to spend more time fishing than he has in previous summers.
Even though they weren’t able to practice together as a team, several players said they practiced on their own during the summer trying to get ready for whenever the season may come.
Stonewall Jackson junior quarterback Jacob Lemon said that he threw the football around with his brother, Jesse, during the summer to get ready for the season.
Central junior linebacker/fullback Isaiah Dyer said the team tried to stick together and help each other through the tough times over the summer and even got together some on the football field.
“We have football group chats and we’ve been talking about trying to get together,” Dyer said. “During the whole COVID we tried to have sessions on the football field but eventually that got broken up.”
DeHaven said that he spent part of his summer with a travel football team based out of Northern Virginia called the Virginia Spartans. He said they played in 7-on-7 tournaments.
“It was good,” DeHaven said. “I like to go down there and branch out my options.”
While there may not be football in the fall, players and coaches still have plenty to look forward to.
Warren County head coach Jerry Sarchet said his team is planning on playing in a 7-on-7 league at Fauquier, once school starts in September.
DeHaven said he’s excited for Warren County to get back out on the field for the 7-on-7.
“That’s going to be great,” DeHaven said. “It’s going to get us ready for the season. We should be playing right now and we all feel like we should be playing right now. So that’s just going to ease our hunger for the game.”
Sarchet and Stonewall Jackson head coach Kyle Kokkonen are in their first year at each school. For Kokkonen, it is his first time as a head varsity coach and he said not having football in the fall doesn’t feel as different to him as it does for a lot of coaches.
“It’s been kind of crazy, but I haven’t done it any other way,” Kokkonen said. “It’s definitely crazy. There’s a lot of stuff we were hoping to be able to do that we didn’t quite get to because we weren’t here. Other than that it’s not like I have anything to really compare it to, so maybe that helps.”
Sarchet said that having more time before the start of the season gives him more time to get to know his team and to also do more recruiting at the school.
“For me, being new to the school, a February start date isn’t the worst thing,” Sarchet said. “Because that will allow time for me, when kids are in school, to start recruiting the hallways of kids that I don’t know and getting them out for football.”
Knowing there is still a chance to have a season also has served as motivation for the players. They are preparing as if the preseason will start in February.
“It gives us something to look forward to, something to work toward,” Strasburg senior Camren Rutz said. “I think as long as you have a goal, especially in this whole circumstances, I think if you just have a goal to work for it keeps your mind on something.”
Wolf said it’s exciting knowing that they can still have a season. He said the team has high hopes that if they can play they can have a special year.
“We’re stacked – that’s just how I would say it,” Wolf said. “We’re stacked, across the board. Our offensive line, our defensive line, our linebackers, DB’s, receivers, running backs, quarterbacks. When you have 16 returning starters – that’s ridiculous. We have kids coming up that are ready to play varsity and it’s going to be a great group. It’s going to be a great group. We’re definitely all hoping that we get to play, and everyone knows that we have the ability to go as far as we want to.”