It’s not difficult to gauge where Livingston Parish’s football coaches and their players stand when it comes to the current status of the game in the state.
Earlier this week, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association paved the way for full contact at practices, and parish teams took advantage.
“It was like Christmas to be able to get out there and start with some contact,” Springfield coach Ryan Serpas said. “The kids have been chomping at the blocks. You can only do tackling drills so much against pads, and they have desperately been wanting to start hitting each other and are ready to get after it. You could tell right away the enthusiasm was there. The intensity for practice was where we liked it.”
Live Oak coach Blane Westmoreland echoed a similar sentiment after the LHSAA’s Executive Committee voted to begin the season the week of Oct. 1-3 after originally setting an Oct. 8 start date to the season. Teams will also be able to hold scrimmages the week of Sept. 25.
“We’re excited to finally have definitive answers,” Westmoreland said. “We’re excited to be in full pads … like kids on Christmas morning.”
Denham Springs coach Brett Beard said the addition of another week to the season wasn’t a surprise.
“When you really started looking at how well we’ve come along, how well our state has done through all this, I knew that if they would let us get into practicing, no matter if we stayed in Phase 2 or Phase 3 and could get after it, that we had a chance to gain some time,” he said. “At that point, you give us Oct. 9, we were ecstatic about that, so this is just a little gift. You give us a scrimmage and another week to play, it’s just a gift, and I’m excited about it.”
Westmoreland said his team put in a heavy practice earlier this week and went through a lighter workout Thursday with the intent of going in full pads Monday.
“We’ll take it,” Westmoreland said of the extended season, noting the Eagles will host St. Amant in a scrimmage. “We didn’t know we were going to get a scrimmage. We thought we were going to roll right into Oct. 9 blind, and now we have an opportunity to get a scrimmage. If you take into account the scrimmage and the jamboree, our kids are guaranteed 12 games. Right now, hopefully, God willing, that we’re guaranteed nine games, so it gives us another game. It gives 32 teams a shot at the playoffs as opposed to 16, which is great for all the schools, really.”
Walker coach Chad Mahaffey said the preparation time for the season ramped up quickly, but at the same time, he wasn’t complaining.
“Great news, everybody’s excited,” he said, noting the Wildcats will host Catholic High in a scrimmage on Sept. 25. “It kind of went from a month a way to two weeks away … but everybody will be good with that, and that’s more opportunities for our kids to play and more certainty, so that’s all a good thing.”
“We’ve been trained for the unexpected at this point, but I mean, it’s good,” Mahaffey said of getting an extra week added to the season. “I’ve always been in favor of as many games as you can get the kids, the better, so I think it’s going to be able to be done and to get the jamboree or scrimmage is a bonus and helps probably with the acclimation, so I think it’s all really well done.”
“I was shocked,” Serpas said of getting an extra playing date. “It’s good for us to be able to get there. I think by doing that, it also allowed them to look at adding the full playoffs. Kind of talking to some people, the way they were looking at things was it was going to be just a four-round playoff where only 16 teams would be allowed from each classification. By doing that, starting a week earlier, it kind of gives us an extra week in the playoffs … and fill that full bracket and kind of go from there.”
Albany coach Mike Janis didn’t have any complaints about getting extra week of play.
“I think due to the multi-team jamborees that we normally play, I think they’d rather just move the season up and go ahead and allow a 32-team playoff, which I think all the coaches and teams are excited about having that regular playoff where we get normal inclusion,” Janis said.
Serpas also said he didn’t have a problem with starting the season a week earlier in relation to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I really think that now is the time for us to progress into more normalcy,” Serpas said. “I think that we have been preparing for this moment, and every state around us is already doing football and live contact, and you’re not hearing of any issues or things like that that are blowing up from that. I just think that if other people around us are doing and it’s proven to be OK, I just think that now’s the time for us to go back to what we do and try to get back to a normal world, a normal way of living again …”
Mahaffey said the Wildcats were limited with their contact in Thursday’s practice
“Our big change was letting the linemen pad up and do stuff (Thursday),” he said. “We didn’t tackle to the ground or anything like that, but we don’t really do a lot of that anyway during practice, but we’ll probably get into full pads Monday for a couple of days.”
Mahaffey said there was a bit of excitement for Thursday’s practice.
“The linemen have been going crazy, so it’s great for them,” he said. “They got to do a little inside drill finally, and blitz pick-up and those kind of things. It was good.”
Beard said the Yellow Jackets stayed in pods for Thursday’s practice under Phase 2 guidelines.
“In our pods, we got after it,” he said. “We did some 11-on-11 and kind of found out what we look like putting the front and the back end together just to kind of give us a little sample size and a little film to clean up over the weekend before we really start our true, real practices that we’ve yet to have together.”
“These kids have been working,” Beard continued. “They were physically and mentally ready to go bang against each other and kind of do some eye-opening work just to see what we could do.”
Denham Springs will host Woodlawn in a scrimmage at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 24.
Janis said he learned of the plan to move to full contact just before Wednesday’s practice, and he wasn’t anticipating it to begin until Monday. He said his practice plan changed quickly.
“I ended up calling kids back out from the practice field as they were on their way out,” Janis said. “We handed out shoulder pads Wednesday, and we went contact Thursday and Friday, and the kids really enjoyed it.
“I think the kids did a really good job maintaining that contact-free practice while we were out there Wednesday with the shoulder pads on, and the excitement level when they were getting their shoulder pads Wednesday, it was like Christmas morning in our locker room.”
Albany will host Pine in a scrimmage at 6 p.m. on Sept. 25.
The Bulldogs, who don’t have a scrimmage opponent presently, practiced in shells Thursday, but it was the team’s first workout in shoulder pads during preseason drills.
“We felt that once those kids put the shoulder pads on, it was going to be hard to stop them from being able to have contact and hit each other,” Serpas said. “We didn’t want to entice it any more than what they were really wanting to at that point. It luckily worked out for us this week the way that we were progressing anyway.”
“I just hope we can keep progressing, stay healthy and get to the point where we’re only a couple of weeks away from being able to start playing against somebody else,” Serpas said. “In a week or so, I’m sure they’ll get tired of hitting each other, and we’ll progress to that ‘hitting someone else’ mentality as we move forward.”