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By Zach Cavanagh

High school football is back, but not how it was thought it would be at this point in August.

Five months ago, most would have assumed this week would have been the second full week of high school football games—officially, Week 1 on the original CIF-SS calendar. However, most months-old assumptions have been upturned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, as high school sports teams returned to the field over the past two weeks, teams began with the bare minimums: socially distanced conditioning camps. There’s no equipment, no contact, no high-fives or handshakes, but after five months of Zoom calls and at-home workouts, teams very much welcomed the beginning of their return to play.

“It was awesome, absolutely awesome,” San Juan Hills football coach Rob Frith said. “I forget how much I really love coaching and the relationships with players. When everything’s distanced, you feel like you’re connected, but there’s nothing like being face-to-face with the kids and being able to communicate.

“It’s one of the highlights of the last few months.”

Frith’s reigning CIF-SS champion Stallions had their first workouts on Tuesday, August 25, and like most, they’re doing what they can within the limitations.

San Juan Hills is conducting only two days of workouts a week—40 minutes each on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesday, the Stallions worked on speed and agility training, getting out of a stance and being explosive. They rounded out the session with some individual position drills, again mostly focused on movement and positioning.

In the Capistrano Unified School District, teams are limited to operating in groups of 10—nine players and one coach—that arrive in 15-minute increments to ensure the groups are distanced. Upon arrival, the groups go through a check-in procedure to make sure they haven’t been exposed to the coronavirus or aren’t experiencing any symptoms.

Even Frith and his coaching staff have adapted even the simplest action they have on the field. The Stallions’ coaching staff is using electronic whistles, in accordance with a National Federation of State High Schools Associations suggestion. In lieu of traditional pellet whistles that involve a bit more spit, NFHS has suggested that electronic whistles or air horns provide one more level of precaution and safety.

In all of the protocols, whether it’s distancing or masks or arrival times, Frith said his group adapted well, but it’s a learning experience and part of the contract of being able to play school sports in these times.

“They’re kids, so they need reminders,” Frith said. “The world that we live in, education-based athletics is different. Even in normal times, when you’re here, we always ask them to do stuff that’s a little bit different. Now, we’re just asking you to be socially distant and have your masks on. The No. 1 most important thing for this school district is to maintain the safety of them and their families.”

While everyone in high school sports is mostly operating under the same safety principles, some programs have become creative.

Capistrano Valley Christian’s football team found a way to incorporate a football and some general football actions into their workouts. CUSD schools are unable to use any equipment at all, but as a private school, CVC has allowed the football to be used without having to actually complete a pass.

In the drill, the quarterback is able to go through his motions and throw the ball toward a receiver who has lined up and run his route. However, the quarterback is throwing to a mesh screen that the receiver is running behind, so the ball can be on line but not reach its target. While creativity is welcome in these days, most hope to be able to get back to straightforward workouts and practices sooner than later. There’s hope that these workouts can ramp up to include weight training and equipment, but as of now, it’s back to basics.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at

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