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Wait almost over for Grangers

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

It’s not how he envisioned his first spring as LaGrange High’s head football coach going.

Matt Napier was hired as LaGrange’s new coach in January, and he spent his first few months on the job getting to know his players, assembling a staff, and putting a plan together for spring practice and the summer conditioning program.

All that planning, it turns out, was for naught.

Schools in Troup County were shut down on March 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic, and since then there have been no sports activities at the school.

That’s about to change.

Last week, the Georgia High School Association announced that sports teams in the state will be permitted to begin summer conditioning on June 8.

There will be all sorts of restrictions, with teams not able to use footballs at the start of summer conditioning, but for Napier, just knowing he’ll be able to see the players in person once again “is a relief.”

“Obviously the stipulations can hinder your excitement, but for us there’s none of that,” Napier said. “It’s just man, we finally get to get the kids back, and see them and get them conditioned. There’s no football and all those stipulations. Well, maybe that can deter some schools that have been doing the same thing for a long time, but us, we’re just excited to get the kids there and see them, and get to work, and build those relationships.”

Like every other team, the Grangers have adjusted to the new reality.

With the players unable to come to the school, Napier and the other coaches have taken advantage of technology to meet with the players over the past few months.

While Napier appreciates technology allowing him to keep in touch with the players, there is no replacement for face-to-face instruction.

“We’ve had opportunities to be in touch through Zoom, and driving around and dropping off Gatorade and protein and those types of things with kids, but to finally get to interact, and coach them, and get them in the weight room is something we’re really excited about doing, no doubt,” Napier said.

Teams will have to follow a lengthy set of guidelines at the start of summer conditioning.

In addition to not being able to use footballs, social distancing will need to be maintained during workouts, so there obviously won’t be any scrimmaging.

Napier is, though, encouraged to see things trending in a positive direction.

“We don’t know what phase two will look like, but with the positive movement within our state, everything’s aligning toward the possibility of getting to play football, and that really excites me,” Napier said.

LaGrange has a preseason game against Brookstone scheduled for Aug. 7, and the regular season kicks off on Aug. 21 against Upson-Lee.

This is clearly not an optimal situation for a program with a new head coach, but Napier said everyone will do their best to be ready to roll when the season arrives.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency when we get released to get the ball out to get started on that front, to get rolling,” Napier said. “I’m excited about the preparation. We’re going to be behind the eight ball from that standpoint, but we’re not going to lean on that as a crutch or an excuse. We’re going to do everything we can to get ready for that August 7, or Aug. 14, or whatever the GHSA determines. All that is up in the air still. We’re excited, and looking forward to the next two months of preparation to try to get ready for that point.”

Football, Napier added, is “a big part of the community, it’s a big part of our lives. Outside of just the football team, for the community it’ll be a sense of relief to get back to some normalcy, and football can definitely bring that.”