Even though there still isn't a clear idea of what a high school football season will look like, the city teams are making the most of what is allowed.
Flagstaff Unified School District released Phase 1 of return to competition earlier this week. The initial phase looks restrictive on the surface -- essentially keeping teams to just conditioning and agility-based drills to start with zero access to indoor facilities like gyms or weight rooms for at least two weeks -- but there are some positives.
Coconino Panthers head coach Mike Lapsley and Flagstaff Eagles head coach Todd Hanley, both entering their second year at the helm of their respective programs, are trying to find those positives in what they are working with even though each admitted it is a bit weird right now.
"It's been really positive, so far; definitely a change though," Lapsley said Wednesday. "One of the things is that keeping the distance of 6 feet in our sport is like a mile to them."
Making the days work, Hanley said Thursday, is a bit of a challenge. The athletes are doing well, but the coaches are managing the new look in making sure the team is adhering to the guidelines set in place.
"It's harder for the coaches than the kids right now, I think, because we have to orchestrate this non-contact practice and we can't use footballs, can't use equipment," Hanley said. "It's just weird."
Lapsley said he and his coaching staff have gotten ample chances to have more individualized work with players because of the 10-per-group rule. Lapsley said the Panthers have done well to stick with the guidelines of keeping athletes as separated as possible but are doing so down their main turf.
The track at Cromer Stadium is under construction, pushing the Panthers to the side fields, the baseball and softball fields adjacent to Cromer at Coconino High School.
"We're not on our turf -- which has limited us to the grass field and some of the baseball outfield -- but we are doing more of stations and circuit training," Lapsley said, adding they have split groups between morning and evening for some. "We're doing stuff separate because we just don't have enough field space. If we can get back on the turf that opens our chance to do more."
Once the turf opens up, whenever that is, the Panthers will get more room to more easily adhere to the 80-feet distance rule between groups that Phase 1 outlines.
The Eagles haven't had that issue, keeping athletes on the practice field and using the track as well at Flagstaff High School.
Hanley and Lapsley noted the solid turnout early on -- with Coconino seeing its best turnout in some time -- and the desire from returners to get back to work and do whatever the rules dictate they can even though some really want to breakout the footballs and do more skill work.
"They bug us all the time that they wanna throw a ball or wanna high five and goof around with each other, but we can't let them," Hanley said. "Like I said, it's very foreign but we're getting the hang of it."
In the playbook
The downtime since spring ball was nixed has given the Eagles and Panthers plenty of time to dive into each of their playbooks.
Hanley said he and his coaches hammered down schemes and gave out some tests on the playbook while school was set to online during the spring.
Lapsley and Coconino followed a similar idea, but have also done some playbook work during Phase 1 to get returners refreshed and newcomers up to speed on terminology and scheme.
"The returners we had already touched base on some formation-type stuff," Lapsley said, "in addition to some of the plays and many of them were familiar with most of the plays, so that was an easy transition."
Flagstaff has strayed away from doing too much scheme work for now, as the the Eagles' run-pass-option scheme is difficult to teach without having a practice defense to work against.
There is no word on what the next phases in FUSD's return to competition will look like, or when it will be finalized and released to schools.
That fact has posed a challenge on its own for coaches, who don't have a ton of information to relay back to athletes and parents.
"The biggest challenge is not knowing the next phase or what the rules will be, and then having to communicate with parents and not have any information to share with them," Hanley said. "As far as the kids, they just need to know when to show up."
If FUSD's next phase looks similar to the Arizona Interscholastic Association guidelines, then there could be a chance to see larger group work to as teams inch closer to some normalcy.
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