The North Carolina High School Sports Association will allow games to begin at the end of the month. But, football was in limbo for much longer at Durham Public Schools, until players at one football powerhouse made a pitch to save the season.
"Sitting in my office at home in December, I never thought this was gonna be a realizable dream," said Jordan High School's first-year head coach Justin Allred on this first official day of practice for the season that came very close to being canceled over COVID-19.
Allred welcomed back his players who've been kept out of the classroom for nearly a year for COVID-19 concerns. But, this evening they returned to campus for football to resurrect a season delayed five months by the pandemic.
Student-athletes, parents push Durham school board to save football season amid pandemic
"It's a nice break from the new normal," Allred said. "To get out here is a blessing that our board of education let us have this chance. And we're doing what we can to abide by every protocol -- dot every 'I', cross every 'T.'"
Jordan’s first-year head coach Justin Allred prepping his team for a season like no other. These high schoolers haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in nearly a year.”— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) February 9, 2021
“The players have taken the COVID protocols in stride because it allows them to be out here everyday.” pic.twitter.com/yu7q7BWbIw
Last fall, the Durham Board of Education barred football from resuming practice -- highlighting the conflict between the need to play sports and stay safe from the virus.
In November, ABC11 spoke to Jordan High stand-out defensive end Vincent Anthony Jr.. He and his dad, a volunteer coach for his son's team, were concerned a canceled season could cost him his shot at a college scholarship. Anthony and his teammates petitioned the school board to reverse the decision. It worked.
"Back in November, I didn't really know. We got the petition out; we fought for the season. And we are out here now," Anthony said. "So I'm grateful."
With temperature checks, contact tracing, and masks required at all times, even under helmets — NC high school football players returned for the first official practice since 2019.— Joel Brown (@JoelBrownABC11) February 9, 2021
TONIGHT AT 11 — the Jordan HS players who petitioned Durham’s school board to save their season pic.twitter.com/HDxo3MjGwH
But COVID-19 creates a football season like no other: Temperature checks are more regular than weigh-ins; Coaches are questioning players for contact tracing; and masks are required at all times -- including underneath their helmets.
"We've kind of gotten used to it," said Anthony who has been participating in voluntary workouts with his teammates since December when DPS gave the go-ahead. "It's a little different, but you gotta do whatever you gotta do to play."
FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE
While the Jordan High Falcons fielded a full roster of players, not everyone was comfortable playing through the pandemic.
"We've had a couple families that decided they didn't want to chance it," said Coach Allred. "I've had a coach opt out as well. It's definitely a unique season in that respect."
And about those potential scholarships, Anthony feared missing out on, "When the colleges heard the season was a go, they were right on me: Eastern Illinois and Georgia Tech already offered," Anthony said. "I've had calls from Duke, App State, Coastal Carolina, Harvard, Yale."
When Friday night lights return Feb. 26, there are hopes for a healthy season on the field and off of it.