Grangers getting after it
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
When Matt Napier accepted the head-coaching position on the LaGrange High football team in January, he put a carefully-crafted scheduled into place.
For the first two months of his tenure at LaGrange he was able to follow that schedule to the letter, but everything changed in the middle of March.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in Troup County closed on March 16, and all sports activities were postponed.
That closure ended up lasting for nearly three months, which not only put a halt to LaGrange’s offseason strength and conditioning program, but meant there would be no spring practice either.
The players had to work out on their own while keeping in touch with the coaches through Zoom meetings.
It has obviously not been an ideal situation, but like every other team, the Grangers are dealing with the adversity the best they can in preparation for a season that begins on Aug. 21.
“Everything is mapped out on a daily basis,” said Napier, who came to LaGrange after spending the previous 15 football seasons as the offensive coordinator at Callaway High. “We’ll be doing this, then we’ll be doing this, we’ve got this padded camp, we’ve got the Mike Hodges camp, we’ve got this offseason workout, we’ve got spring practice. But I think it’s a great metaphor for life. That’s the wonderful thing about the game. We got hit with a little adversity. How are we going to adjust our plan, and make it work and still be successful? It’s not just the football teams that got hit by this quarantine. There are people having to find jobs, to take care of their family. That’s the great thing about it. It teaches these young men, and we can set the example as a coaching staff, we’re not phased about it. We’re going to have a plan, and we’re going to be ready to go.”
The players returned to campus this week for the start of summer conditioning, with plenty of restrictions in place.
The Grangers are having to follow a set of guidelines designed to minimize the health risk to the players and coaches.
Most notably, teams aren’t permitted to use footballs, groups can’t include more than 20 people including players and coaches, social distancing must be maintained, and the players must have their temperature taken and answer a series of health-related questions.
“The kids showed up and they were excited and ready to work,” Napier said, reflecting on Monday’s workouts. “Obviously we’ve got a long way to go in terms of getting kids in playing shape. They were definitely not at their peak, so they struggled a little bit with the conditioning, which we knew they would. That’s going to be an issue. You can tell the guys have been working on their own, but it’s different when you get in there with the tempo is high. The kids struggled a little bit with it.”
Napier was, though, proud of the way the players kept pushing even when they hit the wall physically.
“What I saw that I liked was kids were overcoming some tough times,” Napier said. “They were getting fatigued, but they were still getting up there and going. That’s a sign of a winner. That’s the sign of a kid that’s hungry to win. We saw that for sure.”
Napier added that “it was good to see the kids, good to see the coaches. It’s good to just be back together. There’s something different about being a part of a team, being part of a coaching staff. It’s why you get into it. There’s a sense of family, a sense of loyalty. To get back together, it’s like you met back up with your family during Christmas-time.”
Having everything shut down for three months has presented challenges for all teams, but it’s particularly tough at LaGrange, which has a new coaching staff.
“I would probably say we were behind most teams with a new staff, a new scheme from an offensive and defensive and even a special-teams standpoint,” Napier said. “We’re behind more than the average team that has had a staff in place. Even I feel like we can get ready in that time frame. It depends on what phase two looks like. We haven’t heard much on that front. If there are still limitations you can start worrying about it. You just have to wait and see how things work out.”
Napier, though, has no doubt everyone will do what’s necessary to be ready for a new season.
“I’m hopeful and excited about it, and I definitely think we’re going to do everything we can,” Napier said. “Our staff and our players are completely bought in. We’ll do everything we can to prepare for that first game.”