High school football is back.
This time, the break didn’t last long.
After a “Fall II” season that only finished up several months ago, Section II teams are able to start Friday night with Week 0 play, which is made up of non-league games and scrimmages. The day’s action is the first in an 11-week trek to determine area champions, which Section II only crowned in informal fashion during the year’s first season of games.
Section II football’s “Fall II” season ended during the first weekend of May after starting in March following a delay of several months from the sport’s usual spot on the calendar, a change made because of restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic. With the return to football starting in the (almost) fall on the heels of last season, many teams were able to start preseason work ahead of schedule.
“It made it easier for us to come into the next season,” Schenectady head coach Carm DePoalo said. “We ended in April, then we gave them a month off before we said, ‘Let’s get back in the weight room.’ They gave up time in the summer [to work out]. When you get kids coming in the summer, giving up their own time, that’s great.”
“We hit the ground running. It was just like we were back in April,” said Burnt Hills head coach Matt Shell, whose team advanced to last season’s Class A title game. “They understood how practice was going to work — how we want to practice. There was a lot of getting reps and . . . there wasn’t a lot of down time at all, of having to stop, start and readjust.”
“We got a short spring season in and we had the opportunity to be with them six or eight weeks — and, then, another six or eight weeks goes by and we’re already with them again,” said Gloversville head coach James Robare, whose team meets rival Johnstown in Week 0. “It definitely plays to their advantage. The kids are retaining a little bit more, they seem to be remembering a little bit more.”
Schalmont head coach Joe Whipple said there are drawbacks, as well, to starting up another season just months after the last one ended. Not all injuries had enough time to heal from last season, and Whipple said his team could be a bit shorthanded for its first week or two.
“And a lot of our kids went from one sport to the next, so they didn’t have time to rest,” said Whipple, referring to how the state’s winter, Fall II and spring sports seasons all took place in less than five months last school year. “But all of the coaches and teams are going to battle that.”
Johnstown head coach Paul Furman said his view, though, is that athletes who played a spring sport should have an advantage in that their athletic focus hasn’t been exclusively on football for several months leading into this season.
“I think it could be a disadvantage [for] someone who went straight from football to offseason lifting then back to this,” Furman said. “I’m hoping that they don’t get burnt out. I like the kids that are multi-sport athletes because then they mix it up and they don’t get bored with what they’re doing.”
Many coaches did adjust how they spent their offseasons and preseasons in a nod to the shortened break between football seasons. Shell focused his program’s summer work more around individual workouts than usual, while Whipple said his team’s offseason work focused more on conditioning than weight-lifting.
And, with the pandemic still ongoing, and Section II athletic teams still utilizing a variety of safety protocols to keep athletes on the playing surfaces, Whipple said his program is making sure to continue to include remote work within its diet of team activities. While the Sabres worked out on the field together throughout the preseason, Whipple said the program did as much of its teaching and film work through online platforms as possible.
“Because,” Whipple said, “you never know what’s going to happen still.”
Daily Gazette sportswriters Stan Hudy, Adam Shinder and Paul Wager contributed to this report.