East Lansing High School football players and coaches alike had been hanging onto every bit of news coming down from the top. They’d been waiting, hoping for a chance to continue their season this fall.
And for senior Teagan Hamilton, the news took on an even greater importance.
When the season had been canceled earlier in the summer, Hamilton felt he lost more than the opportunity to play one last season with his friends.
“It broke my heart,” Hamilton said “because I’ve looked forward to this season my whole life playing football with my friends. I’m looking for an offer from really anywhere. I just don’t want me or my mom to pay for all of my college and I wanna compete and go as far as I can with this.”
After the uncertain offseason, when many players and coaches thought their season had been canceled for good, ELHS football is set to play this fall. There are still challenges, though, as evidenced by the cancellation of East Lansing’s first scheduled game — slated for last Friday against Portage Central — due to COVID-19 concerns.
But despite external issues — and plenty of worry and skepticism present — the program is ready to play. The Trojans home opener is scheduled for this Friday against River Rouge.
“I have to say with news changing frequently, I’ve been pretty frustrated just because there’s little stability,” said Jorge Contreas, an assistant varsity football coach. “But that’s just the times we’re in. Like in football, you got to adjust to situations and as a staff we’re working to continue to follow the decisions being made… However, this is an experience no one has ever dealt with before so I can understand the skepticism.”
The team trained and weight lifted according to health guidelines since June, believing there was going to be a season, as long as they followed the rules.
“The distancing, in-and-of-itself, was probably a little easier to do at that point,” Head Coach Bill Feraco said of the summer workouts.
But on August 14, the Michigan High School Athletic Association decided to postpone the season until Spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, on September 3rd, the MHSAA reinstated the fall football season following Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s signing of Executive Order 176.
One condition of the reinstated season is that during practice and games, everyone — including players — is required to wear face masks on and off the field. This rule differs from mask requirements in college football and the NFL, both of which are requiring everyone but players to wear masks.
“The thing that we’re striking towards is that the kids feel very, very comfortable about what is going to be asked of them — to be accomplished, to be achieved — and how to go about doing that,” Feraco said of all the additional details that are unique to this season.
Regardless of circumstances, Evan Sundermann, a junior punter and wide receiver, believes the precautions are working and worth it.
“I think our coaches have done a great job of taking precautions and making sure we’re safe,” Sundermann said. “And I think that is the same for other schools around the state.
“I’ve been missing the feeling of football this fall and I’m super happy that I’ll get to be playing.”
The primary remaining concern for East Lansing’s players and coaches is regarding other programs they’ll encounter. They feel they’ve done what’s necessary to stay safe and that the biggest risk will come from other teams.
“I feel comfortable with us playing,” Contreas said, “because we have been able to maintain a positive atmosphere, and we are very thankful that there has been no exposure to this point. Now, I have to pray that other programs have done the same and continue to do the same.”
Following the Portage Central incident, Contreas’ worries have been validated. Even though the team got past the hump of not playing at all, COVID-19 still has a bumpy road ahead for the Trojans throughout the season.
Yet, like in the summer when their season had been completely canceled, the Trojans remain optimistic they can pull it off.
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