Woodland head football coach Tony Plott spent last week getting back to nature during his yearly family trip to Jekyll Island. Plott saw plenty of wildlife, including deer, sharks and snakes, but much to his disappointment, he didn't see any Wildcats.
That's because they were all back in Bartow County, taking advantage of the first week of summer workouts allowed by the GHSA. Plott, to be certain, received plenty of updates last week about how his players looked, and he was back Monday to witness their fitness levels in person.
“Watching them today, I feel like they are fine,” Plott said Monday as a group of 15 rising seniors worked out on the turf at Wildcat Stadium. “Obviously, I think if we would have stayed in school, they would be stronger. But I don’t know that there’s that big of a drop off from where they were when we left.
“They’re still in pretty good shape, still strong. They’ve done a lot of work on their own. You can tell.”
That being said, Plott has been disappointed in the overall number of players who have come out for the non-mandatory workouts following an almost three-month break from GHSA-sanctioned activities after the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Our numbers are a little lower than we would like right now," he said. "I think a lot of it is with everything that’s been going on.
“We’ve been averaging about 55 kids. Normally, we average about 70.”
Those who have come out for workouts have been put through a combination of weightlifting exercises, agility drills and running in an effort to make up for lost time.
Newly hired strength and conditioning coordinator Charlie Higdon has served as a nicely timed boost to the Woodland athletic department.
“It’s another voice the kids get to hear, so they’re not hearing me all the time,” Plott joked before turning serious. “I think they’ve responded very well to him. The slight changes he’s made in our workout program, they’ve enjoyed. The kids are working hard, so that’s really all that matters.”
Woodland currently has four different workout groups, and the numbers split up nicely to allow them to basically keep members of each grade level together.
“We talked about doing it by offense, defense,” Plott said of deciding how best to split the team into groups. “We talked about doing it by class, and we talked about doing [a split between] football only and kids who play other sports also. What we settled on was just breaking them up by class, trying to keep the classes together.”
At some point, Plott hopes that he will be able to get his entire team together. If not, he would at least settle for the ability to combine a couple of the groups. He thinks maybe the GHSA will open things up further following the dead week, which runs June 28-July 4.
“You hope to be able to increase the numbers in each group,” Plott said. “We would love for them to say we can have 50 in a group. When that happens, hopefully, we’ll be able to start using the balls, and doing the drills and specific things for our sport.”
Last week, teams were allowed a maximum of 20 combined players and coaches per group. This week, the number was upped to 25, but the provision only applied to new workout participants.
With all the restrictions, including the indefinite ban on sport-specific equipment, Plott admitted he doesn't foresee his team being fully prepared for the start of actual games the way they would be during a typical offseason. Then again, he doubts anybody will be at that level by the opening week of the regular season.
“I think everybody is going to be a little bit behind,” Plott said. “We normally have a very busy summer — whether it’s the weight room, the conditioning, the 7-on-7s we do, the padded camps we attend. We aren’t having the team time that we normally have. That kind of sets us back a little bit, and it will limit us moving forward with what we do.
“But we’re not the only ones in that boat, everybody is.”
After returning from a vacation his family had planned prior to the GHSA's announcement allowing for a June 8 return, Plott seemed excited to be back around his players and coaches.
Getting to finally see the majestic Wildcats up close and personal made the extended layoff worth the wait.
“We’re focusing on what we can do and appreciating the fact that we can get the kids out here,” Plott said. “It’s a step, and it’s going to be a step-by-step process moving forward. ...
“We’re just doing what they allow us to do.”