EASTHAM — “Unfortunately, the kids are getting used to disappointment right now,” said Head Coach Bruce Strunk of the Nauset Warriors football team.
Friday nights in September would normally bring out a crowd of parents, students, and other Outer Cape community members to watch Nauset football compete on the turf behind the high school. But that’s not the case this year.
Early in September, the Mass. Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) voted to move high school football to a newly developed “Fall II” season, which, for Nauset, is scheduled to begin on Feb. 22. The sport was deemed unsafe to be played this fall.
On Monday, Sept. 28, Nauset football players were able to take the field for the first time this season to participate in strictly no-contact conditioning while remaining physically distanced from each other.
“I’m excited the kids can get back on the field,” Strunk said. “They need a sense of normalcy. To come back, see their friends — that’s the big piece missing with this remote learning. They need that aspect back in their lives.”
Conditioning is key to getting the players in healthy shape for the February season. Strunk said because the team wasn’t able to practice together at all over the summer, he didn’t think they would have been ready for the normal fall season if it had been deemed safe to play.
“I would have felt really uncomfortable about that,” Strunk said. “If the kids aren’t in the shape that they need to be in, that’s when injuries are going to occur.”
The Fall II season is scheduled to run from Feb. 22 to April 25. But a lot remains uncertain, including the schedule, number of games, and any modifications to the game that must be followed. Of course, there’s no guarantee the season will be played at all. That will depend on how the coronavirus continues to affect everyday life over the winter.
“We’ll wait and see,” Strunk said.
The state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA), which worked with MIAA to design the current guidelines for high school sports, will be reassessing those rules prior to the start of each newly redefined season. At this point, EEA has indicated it expects to release updated winter guidelines during the first week of November.
While players at other schools may be able to work out in school weight rooms, Nauset’s players cannot — at least not yet. That’s because the high school received a failing report on its HVAC system last month. The plan is for players to be allowed back in the weight room once the school reopens, which could happen in mid-October.
The Warriors are looking to build on a strong 2019-20 season. The team started the campaign 5-2 before defeating Dighton-Rehoboth 28-21 in the Division 4 South quarterfinals. It was the team’s first home playoff victory in school history. The Warriors lost to Plymouth South in the semifinals after leading in the first half of the game.
Last season, Strunk reflected, “We cleared a hurdle. That’s always important for teams. I’m very proud of what the kids did last year. We were winning at halftime against a good team in the state playoffs.”
The Warriors lost nine seniors from last season but have a plethora of freshmen and sophomores ready to play. So far, Strunk said, about 12 players have not yet come out for the practices that began this week, “for personal reasons.”
But Strunk is expecting a roster of around 50 players and is hoping the crop of younger players can get acclimated to a new season flow.
“We’re going to have a young team with kids in different positions,” he said.
High points like last season’s playoff win are what high school football players remember forever. Those are the kind of moments that Strunk is hoping this year’s seniors will get to experience in some fashion.
Captain Aidan Handville described his feelings of senior year football in an interview in last week’s Independent.
“The dream of having a senior year, I still haven’t really let it go,” he said. “I’m still holding onto it. Having this idea for so long and not having my moment to shine, it’s kind of like someone took something from me that I can’t get back.”
Strunk is hoping for the best for the seniors on the team.
“Coaches will always be here, but the seniors won’t,” he said. “The seniors have the most to lose.”