CLINTON, Tenn. (WATE) — As a first-year head coach Darrel Keith already feels pressure and having to navigate practices during continued coronavirus concerns adds even more.
“I am responsible for these kids’ lives,” Keith says on the pressure to keep his players safe during this unprecedented time. “I haven’t felt this much pressure since Iraq.”
While navigating starting up practices and taking the necessary safety precautions, like social distancing, has its own challenges for a contact sport like football; Keith says he and his coaches have been getting innovative and creative to run a “normal practice, so to speak, during a pandemic.”
Here’s what that looks like:
- Players report to Clinton’s indoor training facility promptly at 6:45 in the morning to start the COVID-19 screening process.
- Players and coaches first answer questions aligning with CDC guidelines; like experiencing headaches, fevers or other symptoms related to COVID-19.
- Then, their temperature is taken.
- Once their information is logged, they are set to start practicing.
On the field, they are divided into groups of eight players to one coach while keeping spaced out and as socially distanced as possible in each group.
While groups are on the field, others are hitting the weight room which has its own set of protocols.
Every player is prompted to use hand sanitizer from one of the many stations throughout the facility. Next, they wipe down the equipment. Finally, once they are done lifting, coaches come in and fumigate the room before the next group enters.
Each player is assigned to their own numbered water jug to limit the spread of germs as water dispensers remain out of commission for the time being.
“You got to stay on it,” Keith says about enforcing the necessary precautions, “We as coaches can’t get caught up in coaching if we we forget the safety portion of it all.”
While the changes are something everyone is getting used to, Keith says while it can be challenging, “it’s workable.”
Question marks still surround the upcoming season, so the Dragons continue to work hard preparing for whatever the fall will look like.
What is promising, however, is the determination and leadership the older guys on the team are showing. Coach Keith was excited to learn that some of his team had been training at home while gyms and school facilities were closed.
“That was very rewarding for me,” Keith says. “I had about 35 percent of my team that was in shape and they were older guys. I was pretty impressed.”
When asked what that said about his team this year and the leadership from the older guys, Coach Keith simply stated, “I think they’re tired of losing.”