HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (WSPA) – After missing out on a typical fall football season, high school programs in North Carolina have navigated an unprecedented spring season in 2021.
Ahead of last year’s fall season, high schools across the state were informed they would not be playing football in 2020. It was a tough pill to swallow for the hundreds of programs throughout the state.
“In the fall I was watching high school football games and crying every Friday,” Hendersonville Head Coach Joe Sosebee said with a chuckle. “My feelings were hurt a little bit.”
“It had been 54 years that I had either been playing or coaching football in the fall,” added Polk County Head Coach Bruce Ollis. “So I had to put that on the shelf.”
For the players, Friday night lights in March couldn’t come soon enough.
“I was terrified that we wouldn’t have a season,” said Polk County senior linebacker Nate Henderson. “…luckily we did get a season…We’re blessed to play.”
“It was tough to overcome,” said Henderson’s teammate, sophomore running back and linebacker Angus Weaver. “It was really disappointing thinking we weren’t going to get to play this year. We were all really excited and looking forward to it and working hard over the summer. But we’re all pretty excited to play now.”
The spring season is now in full swing. And although it’s a shortened seven-game schedule, teams throughout the state have embraced these unique circumstances.
“It’s not really different,” said Hendersonville senior running back Jayleon Gaines. “I’ll play ball in any weather any time, that’s how much I love the sport. I’m grateful we got to play.”
“I would’ve been crushed for our seniors,” added Sosebee. “They’ve worked so hard for three years up to this time to get to play, so the guys that missed I hate it for them that didn’t get to. I’m lucky our guys are getting to play.”
One of the advantages to playing in the spring rather than a traditional fall season is that the North Carolina schools have been able to take an example from some of the other schools across the country and even in the region, learning from their failures and successes of how to put on a football season in a pandemic.
“I collaborated with about a dozen of them,” Ollis said, speaking about the various staffs in South Carolina. “About how they handle things, the protocols they use. ‘How’d you do the busses? How’d you do practice? How’d you do locker rooms?’ So that was a benefit, no doubt.”
“Some of those schools had to be shut down for two weeks because of COVID protocol and we’re happy that we haven’t had to experience that right now,” Weaver added.
Another benefit was that teams, especially those with several young players, were given more time to prepare.
“Friday we started two freshman and three sophomores on defense, so add that extra time and let those guys mature a little bit,” said Sosebee. “So it’s definitely helped us in that aspect.”
“It kind of gave us a long spring/summer practice, which in our case may have helped us a little bit because we kind of installed a new offense,” said Ollis. “And [it] enabled us to have some more time getting that done.”
And with the regular season wrapping up on April 9, they’ll already have a head-start on the fall as well.
“Whether we win the rest of our games, are conference champions and go in and get in the playoffs and go forward or whether that’s our last game on April 9, there’s going to be no need for spring football,” said Ollis. “So this is kind of serving two purposes.”