Cartersville head football coach Conor Foster knows he’s facing a unique and unprecedented situation as he prepares to enter his second season leading his alma mater.
After helping the Canes to an unbeaten regular season, a Region 5-AAAA championship and a spot in the Class 4A state quarterfinals in his debut campaign, Foster likely understood his second year in charge would prove more challenging. Cartersville is moving up a classification and will be in a stacked region that includes fellow newcomers Blessed Trinity and Calhoun.
Under normal circumstances, the new schedule would be the hardest thing the Canes would have to overcome this year. However, it’s become a distant second after the COVID-19 outbreak completely shut down high school sports in March.
Even still, Foster prides himself on being able to find the positives in negative scenarios while simultaneously using the difficult times as teaching tools for his players.
“There’s a big part of me that is really excited because of that adversity,” he said. “We talk to our young men about it. Football is a great tool for learning about life. … What a great opportunity for us to walk the walk. I’m excited to see how our young men are going to respond to the adversity.”
In actuality, the players have been responding to it as early as mid-March, when the school campus was initially closed. Since then, spring practices have been canceled and summer workouts have been non-existent, at least in a team setting.
Foster, though, believes his players have handled things as well as possible.
“I think it’s been mostly positive, all things considered,” Foster said of his players’ attitudes through the ordeal. “Kids have been working hard and making the best of what they have. There haven’t been a lot of excuses that have been made. At least weekly, checking on their weight, checking on their progress. I’ve also been very concerned about their mental health. …
“Obviously, we haven’t had the time on the field, but it’s been an opportunity to improve in other ways. We’ve relished that opportunity with our young men.”
Well, that time on the field is coming.
The GHSA announced Thursday schools could begin holding conditioning workouts June 8. There were several parameters outlined in the formal plans released by the governing body. Among them, workout groups have to be limited to 20 individuals, including coaches, and those groups have to remain consistent for as long as the GHSA requires.
Thus, trying to be prepared to begin workouts in just over two weeks has become the primary objective for Foster.
“The focus is trying to make sure we have a good plan for a safe return — not just for our young men, but for their families,” he said. “That’s the concern right now. Obviously, we’re excited to get back to football. It will look a little bit different based on the GHSA requirements. We’re going to certainly adhere to those requirements, as well as any of the other requirements laid out for us by the CDC or whoever it may be, to make sure we have a safe, loving and nurturing environment for our young men to come in and get after it. That’s all we can control right now.
“The standard doesn’t change, regardless of the circumstances. Our young men have embraced that. It may be unprecedented, but again, our goals don’t change, our demeanor doesn’t change. We’re going to come in, go to work and make the best of it.”
Foster noted a collaborative effort will be needed in order to design a safe way to begin the resumption of athletic training. One of the GHSA requirements for allowing workouts is for each school system to develop an "infectious disease prevention plan."
“There’s going to be a lot of planning involved,” Foster said Friday. “We’ve already started on that this morning.. … I’ll be working closely with our coaching staff, with our seniors, with our leadership council, with our athletic director and with our principal. We’ll have a plan, and we’ll communicate that plan as soon as we’ve worked out all the details.
“It’s like anything else, there’ll be roadblocks along the way. The programs who are able to adapt, they’ll be successful at the end of all this.”
That’s one of the reasons why Foster is looking forward to how this group of players reacts to such a tough set of circumstances, because it should be a direct reflection of the quality of program he has in place. Based on the Canes’ recent success, including eight straight region championships and 58 consecutive regular-season wins, they would seem as likely as any team to come out ahead in such an unconventional offseason.
While Cartersville did lose roughly nine starters, with quarterback Tee Webb chief among them, there will be a strong Class of 2021 to replace them. Based on last season’s roster, the rising senior class should have roughly 25 members, several of whom saw significant playing time in 2019.
Their final season is already off to an extremely rocky start, but their head coach believes they can lead the Canes successfully though to the other side.
“I’m thankful for the leadership on this team,” Foster said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of football, guys who have grown up Purple Hurricanes. …
"I think they’re excited about this unique opportunity they have to not just lead our football program but to lead our community through these adverse times.”