No area of society has gone untouched by the novel coronavirus pandemic, including sports. After every level of athletics was rocked by the virus and forced to shut down in the spring, professional leagues have figured out ways to return to their fields of play in as safe a manner as possible. Meanwhile, decisions are still being made on the collegiate, high school and youth levels about when and how sports will return.
In our Playing Through COVID series, NBC Sports Washington will tell the story of those decisions and how they impact the people involved, including athletes, coaches, parents and more.
As student athletes begin to settle in with the reality that the 2020 football season has been postponed throughout the DMV, the question becomes, what to do now?
For those in the class of 2021 who have earned a scholarship and verbally committed to their school of choice, the prospect of starting their senior season in February is disconcerting. Injury is a built-in concern when playing football, and whether that injury is significant or lingering, a student athlete who decides to play runs the risk of being less than 100 percent when they report to their respective college or university. A risk one high-level coach, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he would not advise taking.
"If I had a son who had a scholarship offer, there's no way I'd let him play this year ," the coach said. "Football is a physical sport and the body needs down time. That scholarship is worth tens of thousands of dollars. This is a business decision."
Though many verbally committed seniors will decide to play for love of team, love of the game or desires to end their high school career with a championship, one student athlete who agrees is Hopewell star running back TreVeyon Henderson. On July 19, the Ohio State commit announced his plans to graduate in December and prepare for early enrollment at OSU in January. Deciding to forego his final year was a difficult decision for Henderson, but he believes it to be the right one for his situation.
"It's kind of tough for me not being able to play my senior season. I've been training very hard, and I was definitely looking forward to having an even better season than last year," Henderson said. "But I just think it's best for me to go ahead and get out of Hopewell and start a new journey of my life. This way, I can go into Ohio State fresh and ready to go."
Few student athletes have the same options as Henderson. The masses, seniors and underclassmen, are still looking to create opportunities for themselves; they've yet to attract the interest and offers they desire, thus the pandemic has been especially challenging. Camps have been limited, and to this point, college coaches have not been able to visit. Without games, these student athletes are scrambling to get the looks they need. Attempting to help, individuals within the athletic community are creating platforms that will allow the kids to be seen.
The Washington Metro 7v7 Series is one of the first options to emerge. The WM7 will offer a five-week season and plans to provide exposure for student athletes by live streaming games and creating video highlight cut-ups student athletes can digitally present to college coaches.
Despite their intentions, the Washington Metro 7v7 Series is aware that attempting to hold any athletic event during the pandemic is subject to being shut down by individual counties. In a statement, WM7 spoke to this reality by stating:
"We are taking every safety precaution and abiding by every protocol that each county and state requires. From daily waivers and surveys before entering the facility/grounds, temperature readings for every individual entering the facility/grounds, to masks will be worn at ALL times by players and coaches. We will have sanitizing stations, spraying and wiping down of field and equipment before and after every use. There will be social distancing guideline requirements by players, coaches, staff, and parents and finally, we will abide by the state/county mandated number of people at each location."
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In addition to meeting county requirements, operating a tournament will also lend itself to scrutiny from coaches, parents and community members who believe if it's not safe to play tackle football, student athletes shouldn't be participating in 7-v-7 either. To that, WM7 responded:
"To be against something of this nature is to deprive these young men and women an opportunity to achieve goals that they have been working towards for years. Not playing football, in any capacity, this year will crush some of these boys and girls to the point which some may not recover. Football is not just a sport for some of these young men and women, it's their only way out of their situation or to get into college."
WM7 is not the only opportunity for exposure; options are developing for offensive and defensive lineman as well. DeMatha defensive line coach Will Weathers and Gonzaga offensive line coach Cullen Casey are teaming up to offer "Lineman Launch." According to Weathers, the two are creating this opportunity because, "with the season pushed back, the young men will need to get film so they can be evaluated."
Lineman Launch is open to student athletes in the class of 2022 but gives priority to those in ‘21. Athletes will receive their official measurements, participate in combine drills and compete in one-on-ones.
In the coming weeks, more programs are certain to develop for student athletes of the DMV. The fall sports season may be postponed, but the athletic community is active in creating opportunities for exposure.
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MORE PLAYING THROUGH COVID
- Disappointed: Student athletes want to play
- How sports can return: A doctor's take
- Distance learning: Led to postponements