SEFFNER — In a conventional school year, they would be embarking on Week 2 of the regular season. Instead, the Armwood Hawks spend part of a searing Monday afternoon getting reacquainted with their facilities.
At least incrementally. Going by the book, no more than 15 players are allowed inside at a time, and all must wear masks. The Hawks are working off the rust in terms of protocol precision.
“That’s the first time we’ve been in our locker room since last December,” said fourth-year coach Evan Davis, who spent the next hour bouncing from his cluttered office to the equipment room to a meeting area with pinball spontaneity.
“I feel like I’m a little less prepared than I should be, but that’s what you get when you don’t have access to the place for a long time.”
Like their peers in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, the Hawks spent the first formal day of this aberrant high school football preseason trying to shoehorn old routine into new normal. On a day prompting a heat advisory from the National Weather Service, helmets and cleats converged with wet bulb globe thermometers, masks and disinfectant.
“Everything’s out of pocket,” said all-purpose offensive dynamo Charles Montgomery, a University of Florida pledge. “It’s just, like, unusual.”
More like unprecedented.
Prep football in these parts continues reeling from a tragic double whammy. The first occurred in June 2019, when Middleton freshman Hezekiah B. Walters died after collapsing during a scorching late-afternoon workout.
Roughly nine months later, COVID-19 turned normalcy on its head.
As a result, Davis and his colleagues find themselves laboring to follow a series of heat- and pandemic-related protocols before their first blown whistle of the day.
Actually, Davis used a bright-orange electronic whistle — activated by a button instead of breath —another COVID-19 precaution.
“They suggest we use these,” he said.
About an hour earlier, he had shown up at the Hawks’ field house with three boxes of disposable masks. Because the custom-designed ones the program previously ordered hadn’t arrived, Davis — a social studies teacher at Armwood — doled out $60 from his own pocket to keep his team in supply.
For now, they must be worn in the locker and meeting rooms. As a further precaution, Davis has advised his players to take their classes virtually this fall.
“That’s what I told ‘em, just stay away,” Davis said. “Just try to stay as healthy as possible, because there are kids who are gonna come to school with (COVID-19).”
After asking assistant Cody Waldrop to haul the immersion tub down to the practice field in his pickup, Davis then scurried to find his new certified athletic trainer, Jordis Ugarte. The reading (not temperature) on Ugarte’s wet bulb globe thermometer at around 3 p.m. — 85.7.
“That measures to about a yellow; it has about five different measurements,” Ugarte says. “That’s a little bit more increasing heat, but it’s not like anything alarming. It just (requires) a few bit more (water) breaks.”
After issuing the last parcels of equipment to his late arrivals, Davis got a group meeting underway (nearly all attendees wore masks) as another group drifted into the weight room (no masks required) for a 30-minutes session with strength coach Kyle Worden.
Shortly after 4 p.m., more than 90 minutes after Davis’ arrival at the field house, the Hawks’ actual on-field practice commenced. A half-hour or so later, he ordered his players to a nearby sidewalk with an awning.
Perhaps the most normal part of this whole August afternoon.