1019-BRHS photo8.jpg

Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Benjamin Russell's Landon Jacobs (39) reaches out to bring down Calera's DeCarlo Pryor.

The first day of summer workouts always brings excitement for football players and coaches alike.

But this year was a little extra special as it marked the first high school athletic activities around the state for nearly three months. Monday was the first day AHSAA teams were allowed to resume workouts and drills, and Benjamin Russell took full advantage.

“It’s even more exciting; you can tell,” BRHS coach Kevin Smith said. “The ones that weren’t here were younger guys and it’s been hard to get in touch with everyone. We had over 85% show up, so when you’re talking about the first day, only to having a few not here is great.”

Because the coronavirus pandemic also canceled school for these players, they didn’t have easy access to the same types of facilities throughout the last several weeks. For instance, the Wildcat football players nearly get all of their pre-paperwork done — physicals, consent forms and concussion forms — during the spring with the help of an athletic trainer.

Those forms were all still necessary to begin workouts Monday, and Smith said it speaks volumes so many of them got together their paperwork so efficiently.

“To be able to come up here with all these guys, we were proud to get as much as we did accomplished,” Smith said. “Through just email and text getting that (paperwork) done, that says a lot about them. Everybody just wants to get back to work.”

Although there were some challenges for Smith and his coaching staff in terms of implementing the guidelines handed down by the AHSAA, he said it really didn’t change that much.

“This is the new norm, so you walk in and you get hand sanitizer,” Smith said. “When you finish lifting, instead of just trading bars, you gotta make sure you go wipe it down first. It’s different but it’s probably stuff we could be doing anyway when you get down to it — virus or not.”

One of the biggest challenges actually came from one of the simplest things: water bottles.

Because the guidelines specify for players not to share water bottles, Benjamin Russell players were instructed to bring their own bottles.

“But you know, kids will be kids,” Smith said. “They’re going to forget, and they can’t go without water.”

So Smith and the coaching staff had a backup plan with numbered bottles each player could check out for the day.

As far as the football part goes, not that much actually changed. Because Benjamin Russell — like all other high school football teams — missed its spring training period, the Wildcats are looking to make up ground. Instead of working out three days a week this summer, they’ll go four days a week in the hopes of making up the 10 days lost during spring.

But a lot of the first day looked similar to what a typical first day does. The Wildcats went over terminology, drills and formations. But the structure did change. BRHS has set up four workout groups to cycle through two lifting and two running stations. Each player will cycle through a lifting station and a running station one day then switch to the opposite the next.

The Wildcat coaches also did a great job of keeping the social distancing protocols in place. The coaches were constantly staying on their players about maintaining space. Some things had to change though to keep 6 feet of distance between each player.

“The drills we were doing on offense were really read drills and getting the offensive linemen to step in the direction where they would be stepping typically,” Smith said. “The defense, all they did was formation recognition. We set up a fake offense and right now we’re spending a lot of time with, ‘Where do I line up? Pre-snap, what am I doing?’

“Normally in the spring, you install terms and motions, so that’s what we’re doing now. Hopefully once they do turn us loose, the guys aren’t sitting there saying, ‘What?’ They’ve heard it all before.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.