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Late start last season was a head start for this one

Codrington's punt return seals win for NC Central

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Sep. 3—High school football seasons are typically born in the cold and dark of January.

That is when most offseason programs typically begin and weight rooms start filling up for the long slog ahead.

In January 2021, that did not happen because there had yet to be a season and teams were still restricted in terms of what they could do by the coronavirus pandemic.

It had already been determined last November, as voted on by the Frederick County Board of Education, that there would be a spring football season that began Feb. 13 with the first day of practice and concluded April 16 with the final game.

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This presented a bit of a trade-off for Frederick County football teams.

In exchange for a hurried and vastly condensed preparation window for a six-week spring season, they would get a vastly enhanced preparation window for a fall season that begins Friday when things are much closer to normal.

Instead of just squatting and bench-pressing and throwing occasional 7-on-7 touch football passes with an eye toward the fall, players were competing in regulation games during the spring, opportunities that they never had before.

So, when they reported for the first day of practice on Aug. 11, they were already feeling ahead of the curve. Instead of having to wait nine months for the next season to begin, they had to wait less than four this time. The younger players didn’t have to catch up quite as much.

“So things have been pretty smooth in the preseason in terms of these guys remember a lot of stuff. It’s kind of second-hand nature to them,” Middletown coach Collin Delauter said. “Plus … football picks up pretty much right there in June with 7-on-7 and summer workouts. So, it was really only a couple weeks break for a lot of these guys.”

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When Frederick High began its summer football practice, coach Kevin Pirri estimated the Cadets were already two weeks ahead of where they would normally be.

“Our offense is in. Everything is installed,” Pirri said. “The kids haven’t forgotten everything because there wasn’t such a wide window [between seasons]. Everything is in. Really, they are just showing up and we are just refining everything.”

Pirri acknowledged the head start has been somewhat diminished by the heat and late-afternoon storms that altered practice plans throughout August, as well as this week’s flooding that wiped out practice Wednesday and closed schools and canceled practice again Thursday.

But he still believes the Cadets will be ready to go when they open the season Friday against visiting Aberdeen from Harford County. He thinks the Cadets will be able to do much more than they normally would on offense and defense because of the head start provided by the spring season. Everything, including technique and play-calling will be more advanced.

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At Linganore, they were running punt-team drills on the first day of practice. Normally, that would not happen until a week or so of workouts had passed.

“Our punt team was mostly guys that played in the spring,” Lancers coach Rick Conner said. “They knew what they were doing. They looked great.”

When a late-afternoon storm ended Linganore’s first practice after just 45 minutes, Conner did not fret about falling behind.

“I am not pulling my hair out,” he said. “We are going to get caught up.”

Not every team in the county enjoyed the advantage of playing a spring season.

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Maryland School for the Deaf, due to a limited number of players and scheduling issues, did not field a team in the spring. The Orioles have not played an official game since 2019.

St. John’s Catholic Prep, meanwhile, played three games last fall between the end of October and the middle of November before the intensifying pandemic ended the Vikings’ season.

“We have a lot of catching up to do … technically almost two years behind,” MSD coach Neal DiMarco said. “So we [needed to have] a spring clinic, and we had some strength and conditioning training during the summer, and that helped … I hope it will help.”

DiMarco said the long period away from the game meant that some of his players forgot how to play.

“It’s coming along,” he said. “It’s progressing. Start with the basics and build from there.”

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At Middletown, Delauter wondered how tired his players will be by the end of the season.

“It almost feels like we never left,” he said. “It’ll be interesting.”

Most coaches feel that any drawbacks to playing in the spring, such as players not having as much time to recover from injuries, was outweighed by just having the chance to play again.

“I think football, maybe more so than any other sport, is a sport where the training that leads into it is probably the most critical part of your success,” Oakdale coach Kurt Stein said. “It’s not just being successful, but being physically ready and capable of being able to handle the type of workload. So, [the spring season] got everybody kind of back moving around and going a little bit and used to routine. The second it ended, we went right into the offseason program.”

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek

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