by Michael Smith
There was a lot of uncertainty heading into the 2020 high school football season for teams around the United States.
It was no different for the Grain Valley Eagles. There was a possibility of there not being a season at all with the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging countries around the world and overloading hospitals all over.
Because of the pandemic, the Eagles were not able to workout until late June, and players had to make major adjustments to the way they trained. But this season, however, has taken a huge load off the shoulders of head coach David Allie and his 80-plus players attending this year’s offseason training camps.
“We’re back to normal,” Allie said. “We didn’t get to workout until the last two weeks of June. Now, we do strength and conditioning training indoors.”
That’s not all. The Eagles had to move weightlifting equipment outside to workout instead of doing it in the weight room since it was easier to spread COVID indoors than outdoors. Players also had to wear masks during every workout and they had to socially distance 6 feet from each other, which made some drills difficult to do.
“We were limited to what we could do outside last year,” Allie said.
So what were some of those limitations?
“We were wearing masks and weren’t running very much,” Grain Valley linebacker Gage Forkner said. “Wearing masks made it hard to hear people. It’s a lot easier now since we don’t have to wear masks now.”
Added Terry: “Training camp is a lot more intense now. We can do a bunch of work in the weight room. It felt normal.”
Allie added that his players wearing masks caused them to get fatigued easier.
“It added a layer of conditioning,” Allie said. “It makes it harder to breathe and it’s harder to catch your breath. Having the freedom (to not wear masks) makes things easier.
“Last year, there were no offseason training camps. We couldn’t wear helmets and pads until the end of July. That’s when we started having camps.”
This season, mini camp sessions start in the first week of June and the team has been training ever since. On Tuesdays, they have been working out at Moody Murray Memorial Field at the high school.
So far, the Eagles have had anywhere from 80 to 100 participants in off-season training camps.
“We have been doing a lot of agility training and have been working on footwork,” Grain Valley offensive lineman Cooper Terry said. “Before practice, we worked out in the weight room. We also did some contact stuff. It was nice.”
Getting a full offseason of work is going to help a Grain Valley squad that graduated 22 seniors from last season’s team. Allie said the effect of a shorter offseason for his Eagles was a lot lighter for his senior-laden team last year. Things getting back to normal couldn’t have come back for a team that will have more younger players than a year ago.
“We are ahead of where we were last year,” Allie said. “The good thing about this summer is we are going to need this time together. We have a lot of inexperienced guys stepping into major roles on the team.
“Last year’s situation was hard for everybody, but we at least had a lot of experience coming back and they knew what was expected. A lot of our guys now haven’t experienced what I would call a normal summer.”
Added Terry: “Last year, we had maybe one or two underclassmen competing for a starting offensive line spot. This year, we have five or six, but the young guys are stepping up and working hard.”
Last season, the Eagles were one win away from making the state final four. This season, their expectations haven’t changed much from one of the best seasons in program history in 2020.
“We want to win state,” Forkner said. “We want to make it all the way. Right now, we want to get 1 percent better every day, so we can get 100 percent better at the end of the summer.”
Photo credit: by Michael Smith