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Football Anyone?


As this year of sports-uncertainty continues, local high school football teams have begun preparations for what they hope will be a season by taking part in what the PIAA describes as “heat acclimatization week.”

In its most simplistic terms, the program is designed to give players an opportunity to adjust to the summer heat before fully-padded workouts commence August 17. During this week, teams are allowed three days of football practice. Helmets and shoulder pads with shorts are permitted the first two days and full gear on the third day. The practices are limited to five hours daily. No practice session may be longer than three hours, and teams must have two hours of rest between practice sessions.

While it remains to be seen if the PIAA and its football-playing schools can pull off what many collegiate conferences have deemed to be undoable, area football coaches are doing their best to engage their athletes in the safest way possible while holding out hope that those Friday Night lights will be shining on competitive games, albeit with no fans in the stands. At last, check Harry Houdini, the early 20th-century illusionist noted for his sensational escape acts, wasn’t listed as a member of the PIAA Board of Directors, but hopefully, those memorable skills can be transformed by the state’s governing athletic body.

The high school football product displayed each fall in Lycoming County has provided fans with much to cheer about, and a great deal of credit is due to the dedicated coaches who provide the leadership giving countless hours to help their teams succeed and the players’ enjoyment of the sport. A tip of the helmet to a few of those coaches who took the time to share their outlook and concerns regarding the approaching season.

Riding the success of back-to-back district championships, Montoursville’s J.C. Keefer is welcoming a roster of 68 players as the Warriors continue to be optimistic at their chances for a three-peat.

“We should be very competitive again this season with several players back. We were able to use the month of July to work through the player ‘check-ins’ that have really helped us facilitate this process and make it just another part of our routine. That said, I don’t know what to think anymore. We can only worry about things we can control, and whether we play football or not is not something Montoursville football coaches, players, or community members can control.”

At Jersey Shore, the Bulldogs are coming off an 11-4 record as defending District AAAA champions and a final four PIAA appearance. Their kennel is not bare — with 26 lettermen, including seven starters on both sides of the ball returning for coach Tom Gravish.

“We expect about 55 players to report for our heat acclimation drills,” Gravish said. “We are excited to get started and have accomplished a lot through our summer strength, speed, and conditioning program. We are trying to be as safe as possible under our school district’s guidelines. We are trying to have as much fun as possible and play it one day at a time.”

Expressing “the strength of the wolf is the pack” mentality Williamsport’s Chuck Crews was expecting roughly 75 players to report this week.

“We expect to be better than last year. We just need COVID to chill out and allow us to find out. The biggest challenge is the uncertainty surrounding everything. Football coaches are notoriously creatures of habit. Our strength is rooted in consistency. With no clear cut COVID policies and procedures, it is difficult to plan accurately for practices. Also, because camaraderie and team bonding are pillars for successful programs, social distancing is tough.

“As an eternal optimist, I believe we will have a full season; however, I do not believe we will have a traditional state playoff system this season.”

As the eastern end of the county, Hughesville’s Adam Gehr and his players are anxious to get things underway.

“We have 37 players, and the kids have accepted the challenges of the offseason and the upcoming season changes. The kids just want to play. They have been patient with all the health screenings and social distancing as much as possible at this point. Practice preparation has been a challenge. It really comes down to the kids, coaches, and parents willing to make sacrifices to make it work. So far, so good, with all involved.

“We look to have a number of returning starters back on both sides of the ball. Our biggest concern is finding a quarterback, and that battle is wide open. We are looking to our seniors to lead the way. I personally worry about things we can control. I told the kids all of this is out of our control as to whether we will play a full season or not. We will prepare as we always do and adjust accordingly.”

That’s about all Keefer, Gravish, Crews, Gehr, and the rest of the high school coaches can do, prepare, and wait for those Friday Night lights to shine brightly. Those are the moments they and their players can control. Let’s hope they have that chance.

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