One would certainly have a hard time finding a high school football coach in Georgia who is happy about the current restrictions put in place by the GHSA for summer workouts.
And to be clear, Cass' Steve Gates is not thrilled with the rules and regulations. But the first-year head coach is definitely doing everything he can to focus on the positive aspects of the less-than-ideal situation.
The hardest hurdle most coaches have had to clear is the limit of 20 individuals allowed at a single workout. The typical breakdown is 18 players and two coaches per group, with the large caveat that neither players nor coaches can switch groups.
Cass is currently holding five different sessions per day. A majority of the players expected to contribute significantly on Friday nights are in the early groups. Two of the sessions occur in the evening, allowing players who are too young to drive and players who work during the day to attend.
It's led to a boost in total numbers and turnout rate relative to most summer workouts. That's the silver lining for Gates.
“We didn’t have much choice,” he said about creating the groups. “You usually do a younger group in the evenings, somehow you try to, even pre-COVID, you try to accommodate that. A normal day is going to run from 8-11 or 8-12 on a normal summer workout day. You hope all the kids can get there, but you lose some kids because of rides, they can’t make it.
“As much stuff as we have to go through right now with COVID, it’s kind of a little blessing that we’ve got these individual groups where we can get everybody here, spread out throughout the day. Like I tweeted the other day, we had 93% attendance. The four, five, six guys who weren’t here, we knew where they were. Two were out of town, one was at a funeral and two were working. When you’ve got 93% attendance in the summer, that’s huge. So it’s actually a little blessing.”
Gates said if the current restrictions stay in place much longer, the Colonels might have to add a sixth group. He would consider that a good problem to have.
“As of today, we’re sitting at 87 registered players,” Gates said Thursday, adding that he has had to order more helmets. “There’s a chance — maybe for the first time in Cass’ history — that we have over 90 players and up to 100 players at a 5A school. The word’s out, things are changing. Cass football will never be the same. … I truly believe that. The numbers show it already."
Now, granted, large numbers and high turnout rate for non-mandatory workouts are great, but the quality of the players is clearly important.
The Colonels returned earlier this week after a nearly three-month layoff. Gates and his staff would have been interested to see what kind of shape the players showed up in.
For the most part, Gates was pleased with what he saw.
“Obviously, we had some kids who were struggling,” he said. “When you have 80 kids, there are going to be some ones who have done absolutely nothing, and those ones are [struggling]. But like I told my coaches, we’re not out here to kill them and to see who hasn’t been doing anything. We’re out here to get them into shape, regardless of where they are in getting in shape. ...
“We’re going slow with our conditioning. Some struggled, but the majority, I would say 70-80% of them, are right where they need to be. They’ll be fine.”
Cass players in the 10 a.m.-noon group took advantage of mild temperatures and a slight breeze Thursday during the outside portion of their workout on the Colonels practice field.
With offensive coordinator Darrel Roach leading the session, Cass players wore wristbands with plays from the team's new offense on them. The group of Colonels, including young quarterbacks Devin Henderson (rising freshman) and Connor Ray (rising sophomore), mocked plays without a football.
As he watched his players from afar, Gates wondered about how the fake football he was seeing would translate to the adjacent turf field later this summer.
“We have some players; we’ll see if they can play football,” he said. “It’s a totally different offense. It’s totally different expectations. ... We just did conditioning and a game-type simulation like we’re running plays, but until we have a football and start doing plays, that type of stuff, it’s going to be difficult to see if these kids can play.
“Who knows when we’ll be able to put on a helmet; who knows when we’ll be able to hit. Those are things, as a coaching staff, that we all to wait and see. As far as athletes and players, sure, we’ve got some pretty good-looking players. Until they put a helmet on and line up across from somebody, I won’t know if they can play football or not, at least to my expectations of what I’m going to expect out of them.”