High school teams need the offseason and preseason in so many ways. Players get in shape and coaches install various schemes and systems. For many teams, regardless of the sport, it’s a time that’s considered crucial.

But local fall sports teams did not get that opportunity this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most high schools typically start practice in early to mid-August, and the schedule starts soon after. This year, though, there was no preseason camp, and coaches needed their athletes to work on their own to get ready for the season.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association announced in September that beginning Oct. 7, local school systems had the freedom to allow fall sports teams under their umbrella to start practicing. Local school systems can opt to play the fall sports season beginning in late October or in the spring.

Hereford girls’ soccer coach Brad Duvall has enjoyed plenty of success during his eight-year tenure with the Bulls. Last year, Hereford finished 9-3 overall, its season ending with a 1-0 loss to Linganore in the MPSSAA Class 3A state quarterfinal. The coach thinks this year’s team could be strong, and his players have done — on their own — what many other area players did.

“An under-18 league was created [through Top Flight Sports], and kids from all over the metro area are involved,” Duvall said. “Trying to keep the kids involved ready for practice and when games begin [is important].”

This under-18 league has about 700 athletes involved, according to Duvall. On one team, for example, there are 10 Hereford and 10 Perry Hall players.

Duvall gave his players some training ideas around March or April, and he said the girls have been working on their own. A number of them also play on high-level club teams, and that helps keep them ready.

The coach has tried to stay connected with his team through Zoom meetings and to keep things as positive as possible. Before practice started, Duvall was looking forward to getting back on the field for so many reasons.

“I think [getting going] will be just great,” Duvall said. “This will be one of the best teams that I’ve ever had. Them being so good and not being out there has added angst.”

How good is Hereford? The Bulls feature 12 seniors, including Payton Patrick (forward) and Laura Schmidt (center back), both of whom were named first-team all-state last fall by the Maryland Association of Coaches of Soccer. Duvall said the short amount of preseason time they were scheduled for should not be a hindrance.

“I think we’ll be able to squeeze the training in pretty well,” Duvall said before practice began. “These girls are [focused, and they] want the states.”

Reggie White has a similar yet different situation to worry about with the Milford Mill football team. White has a solid roster that includes senior quarterback Rishon Holmes, who already has a dozen or more college offers.

Last year, Milford Mill finished 10-2 and lost to Potomac in the second round of the Class 2A state playoffs. White, a former NFL defensive lineman who was a leader for the Millers during their 1987 state title run, worked to keep his players engaged leading up to preseason practices.

“Basically, we sent them workouts on Monday through Thursday, and we hope and pray that they do it,” White said. “We started Zoom calls again. We talk about health, wellness, schoolwork and being positive members of the community.”

His players couldn’t stay on a weightlifting regimen at home, but White said they did body-weight exercises on their own. He also encouraged them to get together and practice to work on their timing, even doing some 7-on-7 drills.

Still, it’s difficult to get ready for football without the typical preseason work. Offensive and defensive players need to learn schemes, and players need to build chemistry with one another. It all takes time, something they haven’t had much of this year.

Milford Mill football — and other teams in the area — might also have to spend a bit more time making sure players are in the right shape heading into the season, whenever it takes place. White said he and his staff will make sure the players are in shape.

“They [will do] a lot of running,” White said before practice began.

But when it comes to playing during the COVID-19 pandemic, caution will be the key word. Just as caution pushed fall sports activities back, it’s going to be a part of life for teams during the season.

Hope is the other big word. The coaches were hoping the players did enough work to come into preseason workouts in shape and ready to go, especially heading into what should be an unusual season in many ways.

“I don’t think my coaching philosophy is going to change or how I coach,” White said. “Maybe it’s how much time I’m going to get to coach. I’m going to be talking to the AD, my principal and following … the CDC guidelines. It’s going to be very difficult. We’re just going to be flexible and make adjustments.”

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Brad Duvall and Milford Mill Athletics

Issue 265: October/November 2020

Jeff Seidel

See all posts by Jeff Seidel. Follow Jeff Seidel on Twitter at @JeffSeid62