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Benjamin Russell’s Damien Lawry speaks at a press conference in Opelika for high school media day.

A pandemic, school out for months and a .500 season could spell disaster for summer football workouts — but not for Benjamin Russell coach Kevin Smith.

Thanks to what he calls a “mature group” of soon-to-be seniors, Smith and the Wildcats are well on their way to improving on last year’s disappointment of not reaching the playoffs.

“The word that pops in my mind on how they handled it, this is a mature group,” Smith said at a high school media day event in Opelika earlier this week. “Our attendance at summer workouts has been phenomenal. It’s been amazing. They have been there every day with very little percentage of people missing — like everybody else, a little drop in numbers because of the virus. These guys have really picked it up. They are just a mature bunch.”

Benjamin Russell is used to success on the football field and Smith said team leaders, especially seniors, are emerging during the unusual summer workouts.

“This group of guys at Ben Russell did not have the success last year it is used to,” Smith said. “In (Class) 6A schools you get thrown around a lot. When you come to Alex City, we don’t want to hear that and that is something that is not an excuse. We didn’t have the successes we are used to. 

That has been put on the shoulders of this senior class and they have done a great job handling it taking it on. With all the stuff that is going on with the pandemic and the questions, they have talked about it. I think this year will be better.”

Smith said expectations of his seniors are no different than in years past.

“We want to have a winning season and have a home playoff game,” Smith said. “We just expect leadership out of the seniors and we expect hard work and effort. Being small is not an excuse. We expect to be in the playoffs; we expect to be in the playoffs at the (Charles E. Bailey) Sportplex.”

There is still a lot of uncertainty across the country about sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no high school football until December in California. The Georgia High School Athletic Association has delayed the start of Georgia high school football for two weeks until after Labor Day. Texas has delayed its high school football season. The Alabama High School Athletic Association has laid out a plan allowing schools to start fall practice Monday and start a season Aug. 20. 

For Smith and his Wildcats, it’s business as usual until told otherwise.

“We are going to prepare as if it is happening tomorrow,” Smith said. “We don’t know what is going to happen. We are going to prepare and these guys have done an excellent job of preparing.”

To overcome losing spring practice, Smith altered the summer workout program and expanded it. Smith was unsure how it might go, but after more than two months, he is proud of his team’s  effort this summer.

“We traditionally go three days a week in the summer — Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and have Wednesday as a makeup day,” Smith said. “When we didn’t get spring this past year, we kind of looked at it and said we need to add a day. Our participation rate, you can always look at in general to see how mature you are through the attendance and commitment of the team, our attendance drop has been minimal and that has been with adding a day. That tells me there is a lot of commitment there. It is more than talk. The proof is in the pudding; they are still out there working in the heat and they are still there.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.