From a distance, almost everything looked normal at Pike High School’s football practice the morning of July 31.
One of Pike’s assistant coaches, Orlando Lowry, called out some of the safeties for not hustling to him for drills near the 30-yard line on the east sideline after warmups. Running backs were near one end zone working on handoff exchanges, and defensive linemen did agility drills at the other end zone.
Still, if you watched and listened closely, there were signs that this practice — the last summer practice before the season started — was happening in the middle of something completely abnormal.
There were reminders from coaches to keep socially distant. Players wore masks when standing around — and some even while doing drills. There weren’t any one-on-one drills, and players could only go into the locker room to get their helmet before practice one small group at a time.
This is football practice in the age of COVID-19.
“I always keep it in the back of my mind, every practice could be my last practice,” senior defensive end Kyran Montgomery said after practice, “so I go hard every time, spend time with my teammates, just try to keep it as positive as possible.”
Athletes saying they’re going to treat every practice or game as though it could be their last is an old sports cliche that carries new weight now.
North Central High School got approval from the Washington Township school board to resume practice Aug. 3 after sports were put on hold following the board’s decision to begin the school year online. Indianapolis Public Schools put athletics on hold until at least Aug. 17, and a football player at Warren Central recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Marion County schools likely still have at least another week to wait before learning the fate of fall contact sports — football, soccer and volleyball — from the Marion County Public Health Department.
Pike and some other Indianapolis-area high schools are supposed to begin football scrimmages Aug. 14 and 15.
Pike’s second-year head coach, Pat Echeverria, said he’s delegated most football responsibilities to other coaches. He spends a lot of his time and energy on making sure everyone follows guidelines from the Indiana High School Athletic Association — such as wearing a face covering when not participating in an activity.
Players leave their bags along the fence to limit the need to go into the locker room, and there are multiple whiteboards spaced out under the home bleachers so not everyone has to crowd around one space.
Lowry, the assistant coach, pointed out the obvious truth in all of this, that there’s an inherent hazard just by simply being there. Prudence can lessen the chance of a virus upending the season, but that possibility won’t go away completely.
“Everyone’s health is at risk,” he said.
If the high school football season happens, expect some sloppiness at first. Pike and other teams are behind where they would normally be just a couple of weeks before scrimmages because of practice limitations.
There’s been some talk about delaying football and other sports, and of course there’s the very real possibility that those sports won’t happen at all.
“I try not to think about that because it’s my senior season,” Pike left tackle Mahamane Moussa said. “I wanna play in the fall. I don’t wanna play in no spring.”
Pike ended practice by going over kickoff coverage responsibilities, and Echeverria gave a short talk that again offered the illusion of normalcy.
Playing time isn’t just about skill, he said, it’s also about attitude. They were to come back ready to compete and show they can handle adversity.
“They have to take advantage of each day,” Echeverria said afterward as players gathered their things to leave. “It could be the last day at any point in time. I don’t want to dwell on it and focus on it, but it’s out there. It’s real.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.