Saturday June 19th, 2021 5:31AM

Football: Area programs continue pushing forward

By Bo Wilson and Jeff Hart

Despite all the "doom and gloom" reports on the web, believe it or not, northeast Georgia's football programs are running pretty smoothly. 

Of course, there is doubt across the high school football landscape. Some school systems around the state have canceled the fall sports season because of COVID-19. But northeast Georgia's programs still are going strong. 

Softball and volleyball games have gone off without any major hitches this week. Most football teams are finishing up the second straight week in pads, and athletes are, for the most part, in great shape. 

Months ago, the Georgia High School Association asked coaches across the state to follow strict guidelines during the return to competition. They did that. School systems invested money in sanitizing foggers, disinfectants, Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer and masks to help make the return easier. They've also practiced social distancing during workouts and stayed within their groups.

But, somehow, various media outlets want to drive the narrative that practices around the state are filled with COVID-19 infected athletes and coaches, waiting to pounce on the next school system to cancel the season. 

Sure, the area has had its issues at times and, for full transparency, East Hall's football team is in quarantine until Tuesday. But they've taken the proper steps to cleanse the facilities and quarantine. Flowery Branch's football team also dealt with a quarantine back in June. 

As they say, it's the new norm, and it's obviously a work in progress. After all, every program has been handicapped with fewer days of preparation, and spring practice, 7-on-7 drills, team camps and pre-season scrimmages were all canceled. Coaches say things have been going well but still have a long way to go before the official kickoff date on Sept. 4.

And through all the rules, protocols, screenings, testing and social distancing, the main speed bump right now has been the weather -- not COVID. 

AccessWDUN caught up with several area football coaches to ask, "how's it going?"

Heath Webb, Gainesville

"We will be ready for opening night on Sept 4. The decision to cut scrimmages has given us the chance to go back to fundamentals and spend more time in the weight room. Makes for a long preseason but we're making the most of it."

Michael Brown, Commerce

"We have had to avoid afternoon thunderstorms a time or two but all-in-all it's been good... still have a ton of work to do before we are ready to play."

Caleb Sorrells, Lumpkin County

"Practice is going well and the kids are responding. Between the wet bulb and lightning, it's been impossible to have a full pads practice so that's frustrating. But I think three more weeks is plenty to be ready. We aren't there yet but we will be."

Jason Roquemore, Towns County

"I think each day has gotten better. I don't think we are there yet. Losing the scrimmage date makes things a little different. There's a lot of teaching that comes off those scrimmage opportunities. But it is what it is and we have to control what we can control."

Jay Reid, Banks County

"Things are going really well and our guys are having a lot of fun right now. I feel good about where we are at the moment and feel that we will be ready. Not getting to scrimmage really makes things a lot different as they are a vital piece of our evaluation."

William Harrell, Johnson

"Things are going okay. (The) kids are working hard to learn how we operate and what our expectations are in terms of behavior, actions, and presentation. We still have a long way to go, so we'll continue to plug along."

Krofton Montgomery, West Hall

"Things have gone well in Sparta trying to adjust to extra practice time without scrimmages and staying healthy and safe. We've been splitting into groups using the extra time to continue to work out in the weight room and condition as well as installing our system in all three phases. Without a scrimmage you don't have the opportunity to get the so-called 'fly in the ointment' out of the game; the anticipation of snaps; getting snaps; special teams live action; the small things that are huge in a game and are hard to simulate."

Gene Cathcart, Jefferson

"Our players are working extremely hard, especially under all the circumstances surrounding all levels of football right now. The normal adversity of this time of year seems a bit trivial, weather, heat/humidity, and all the conflicts. And while none of those are trivial at all, our young men are handling them with great maturity. We are a long way off from being bright lights ready for Friday's but this group's solidarity, unselfishness, mental and physical toughness and work ethic make that less of a concern for our coaches."

Tim Cokely, White County

"We are close to ready now. We really haven't had any issues since we returned in June.  Hopefully, we will get good news from the state."

Shaun Conley, Chestatee

"(We're) doing great! We are progressing pretty well. We don't play until Sept. 11 so we still have some (extra) time. Overall, I think we are pretty much on track."

Ben Hall, Flowery Branch (was quarantined for three weeks)

"We were in pads for the first time (Monday) and the day went fine. We have a long way to go before we're ready for Friday nights!"

Benji Harrison, Habersham Central

"It's good to be back in pads. It's good to get the physical aspect back and see where we are. I think our kids are very eager to play. They are working very hard each day with the hope of kicking off the season on Sept. 4. I think we still have a lot of work to do between now and then, but I like how we are progressing."

David Bishop, North Hall

"Since getting in pads, we have learned that we have a long way to go. The good news is that the players recognize that and they have been working hard to improve. The biggest missing factor I see right now is chemistry. We have not been able to be together in one group most of the summer and being in pads is helping to get us focused on our mission to be a better team."

Cameron Pettus, East Jackson

"Great getting pads back on. I am glad we have the extra time. Practicing in pads after school is a totally different beast then practicing in the morning without them. We are very proud of them, they are working extremely hard."

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