SOUTINGTON - Just three months removed from a loss in the Class LL state tournament semifinals, the Southington football team was eager to get back to work in the spring and prepare for another run towards a state title.
The coronavirus outbreak impeded those preparations, shutting down winter sports in early March and eventually all of spring sports. With schools closed down indefinitely, the Blue Knights were forced to think outside the unfamiliar box of staying in shape and prepared during a global pandemic.
“There were some challenges along the way,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “There were things the kids could do and things they couldn't do. Many of them didn't have access to gyms until June 17th. We had to get really creative, like filling suitcases with weight during our virtual training. “
Some of the Blue Knights resorted to carrying luggage during the spring months when most were confined to their own homes for 24 hours a day, but Drury and the coaching staff kept in regular contact with the team, setting up Zoom meetings four to five times a week to go over live online training exercises or virtual film sessions. If the 2020 season was going to happen, Southington wanted to be ready.
“We wanted to keep them engaged and mitigate anything we lost during the shutdown,” Drury said. “We kept heavily in contact with our guys.”
Now, certain restrictions have been lifted and the Blue Knights are back together in person, participating in outdoor workouts three times a week as the CIAC continues its attempt to begin fall sports on time. For now, workouts are limited to smaller groups and must be kept outdoors, but Southington had remained creative in trying to bring the weight room to the outside.
“It's going good,” Drury said. “It's going as good as it can be right now. It's not normally how we do things, but we've moved a lot of our weight stuff outside so we can do some strength and speed work and put it back into storage containers. That's kind of been our process so far.”
Lugging out and sanitizing equipment for each workout isn’t how they’d prefer it, but the Blue Knights, like most other teams in the state, are just happy to be back to work.
“They were thrilled and excited to be back,” Drury said. “Our guys work tremendously hard. Even in normal summers they love those workouts and know it's going to be grueling and demanding, but especially this summer, there are times when it's hard and taxing but they just want to be out there doing it. They're enjoying it and are enjoying seeing each other and seeing the coaches, and just getting ready for the season. They're excited for it.”
For the coaches, the unique format of the new practice regulations has altered their schedules as well. No longer can the coaches gather the team into one large group for workouts, at least not until the next phase of the CIAC’s reopening process. It’s been a more demanding work schedule, but like the players, the coaches have embraced the opportunity to be on the field, regardless of the hours.
“Our coaching staff has done a great job and stepped up to the plate,” Drury said. “We meet weekly and meet with the players, and they've stepped up big time. We have the majority of our staff there, from freshman coaches all the way up. Typically, our normal hours are four days a week just with training and we would go from 6:30 to 8:30 and be out. That's how we'd normally do it. But now we're there at 5:45 getting set up, starting at 6:30 and by the time all the cohorts go through, it's about 11:00. It's definitely longer in terms of that and a given day. We need everyone to step up and the coaches have done a great job with that.”
The team itself has also had no issue easing into the new routines. Thanks to lifting weighted suitcases in their basements back in March and April, the Blue Knights have been seamlessly easing back into a full work schedule and are confident in their preparations for what they hope to be another state tournament berth.
“We had a really good base leading up to it, but we had to bring it down to baseline stuff to make sure we knew where our technique was and not creating any overuse injuries right off the bat,” Drury said. “But it's picked up now. The kids are tough and resilient, and that's allowed us to really accelerate things.”
For a team like Southington, which always expects to compete, it’s difficult not to look ahead to a new season after coming so close to a state championship berth less than a year ago. But in the current climate of the state and the country as a whole, where updates and outlooks change by the day, it’s been important for the team to keep its focus on the next workout. The outlook for the season could change, but for now, it’s preparing for as normal a season as possible, with hopes that there will be an opening kickoff come September.
“From our discussions with our athletic director and the CIAC, it's been really optimistic in terms of the metrics and where we are,” Drury said. “I talk to a lot of coaches daily throughout the state, and it's positive. Right now, we're starting on time and whatever wrinkle or adjustment we'll have, and there will be plenty of them I'm sure, we'll be ready to adjust to that and just move forward. We're just excited to get started.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 80-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org