Auburn High center Cort Bradley started his Tuesday morning by filling suitcases full of clothes, putting them in his dad’s Chevrolet Silverado truck then pushing the vehicle around an empty parking lot.
“I like pushing a sled. I actually didn’t have a sled, so we took my dad’s car,” Bradley said with a laugh a few days later. “We put suitcases full of clothes in there just to try and put more weight on it. We just went out there and pushed it. I feel like for an offensive lineman I need to keep that push part of that.”
The endeavor wasn’t one the 6-foot-4, 305-pound rising senior would typically be doing this time of year; then again, this is far from a typical time.
Bradley is one of countless high school football players across Alabama who are adjusting on the fly thanks to the coronavirus effectively ending team winter workouts and spring practice. Their coaches are also experiencing a tremendous amount of change as well as they quickly draw up new game plans in order to make sure their teams are ready once they finally get the chance to reunite.
“It is what it is. There’s no playbook for this. There’s no written book on how to handle this. I think everybody is trying to find the best way to handle their own situation,” said Adam Winegarden, Bradley’s head coach at Auburn High. “For us, it was, look, let’s just stay on track. We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. We need to think long-term, but let’s just look at what we were going to accomplish right now anyway, try to recreate that and just keep that progress going for as long as we can.”
Winegarden has the benefit of knowing his team well thanks to spending the last five seasons as the Tigers’ head coach. The same cannot be said for LaFayette’s Juan Williams, who just took over the Bulldogs’ program in January.
Williams was able to come to LaFayette shortly after being hired, which has proven to be a tremendous break for him now. He spent about a month getting to know his team and leading them through workouts before the school year was put on pause before ultimately being canceled in favor of students learning from home the rest of the semester.
Like many of the local schools, LaFayette would be in the midst of its second phases of winter workouts, which Williams said would have featured primarily agility-based workouts. Instead, Williams is asking his players to get in plyometric exercises such as planks, sit-ups and push-ups at home in order to keep their bodies toned while also staying out of harm’s way.
“With my situation there, it’s unfortunate to be honest with you. We felt we were getting going pretty good early so that we would have a spring and all that. Life is about unexpected turns that you have to handle it as it goes,” Williams said. “I’m telling kids to do stuff at your house. At the end of the day, it’s about their health and their well-being. You don’t want kids going out, getting with other kids and saying, ‘We’re all going to go do this, Coach.’ They’ve got a quarantine out, guys, especially with the situation in Chambers County. I’m telling my kids to stay in.”
Williams and his new staff have been using the video conference app Zoom to stay in touch, which is just one of the countless examples of coaches using technology to make the most of this unprecedented time.
Winegarden and his staff have used a number of resources for their team, which has included a private Facebook group to share important information with the team. Winegarden has posted videos both privately and publicly for his team encouraging them to continue their hard work while also being smart during the pandemic.
Winegarden said assistant coach Tony Ford has designed at-home workouts that utilize a player’s body weight, emphasize strength and cardiovascular endurance and can be done in their homes. Winegarden also hopes players have space to run outdoors or even a backyard when they can perform actual football drills.
Luckily for Winegarden, some of his players are well prepared like Bradley, who has a squat rack at home with 600 pounds of weight.
“We’re just trying to recreate the April calendar virtually. All we’re going to worry about is April,” Winegarden said. “We have at-home workouts for them to complete. We’ll have videos online they can watch, and if there’s things they want to do on their own they can.”
Opelika head coach Erik Speakman and his staff have used plenty of new strategies to stay on top of things like using the app Learn to Win to send the players messages and film as well as Hudl to message the entire team in a matter of minutes.
Speakman, who has been at Opelika for 20 years, recalled the challenge years ago of telling his baseball players that practice was canceled and having to call each one. Now, he and his coaches can get to each Bulldog with a couple clicks of a button.
Speakman said assistant coach Jared Fleming has developed a lifting plan for the players that can include things such as lifting a car battery or picking up cinder blocks. Like Winegarden, Speakman said Opelika’s staff is taking it week by week while also keeping the long-term mission in mind.
“Right now it hasn’t been that big of an issue because most of us would’ve only been in the weight room. Where I think you’re really going to see some guys come up with some innovative ideas is when we get into May and we would have actually been in spring practice,” Speakman said. “That’s the thing where we’re really going to have to adjust — the time we would have normally been on the field with them we’re not going to be able to do that this year. We’re going to have to come up with some ways to almost simulate a practice.”
While Speakman and other coaches in his position dream up plans for the weeks to come, the onus on their players is to stay active in the meantime.
Accountability is the common word used by coaches about their players given there isn’t someone looking over their shoulders making sure they are staying in shape. Bradley said it will be obvious when the players eventually recoveniene who did and who did not do the work, and Opelika running back Eric Watts explained how easy it is for any of the players to fall behind.
“The problem is doing it on your own and staying focused because it is so easy to just sit around and do nothing,” Watts said. “It is very important that each player continues to work out at home in some way so that we aren’t unprepared going into the summer.”
Winegarden, Williams and Speakman all expressed how important it was for the coaches and players alike to make the most of the time at home.
Williams has begun walking to make sure he stays in shape just as much as his players do. Speakman has spent the majority of the time with his five children, including his youngest son Shep, who is practically pulling his father outside to hit baseballs before the family has even had breakfast.
Winegarden, meanwhile, has embraced the extra time with family and also accomplished a few at-home projects, which includes turning the family’s garage into a dance studio for his daughter Haley.
“When I first started coaching, we didn’t do any of this stuff. Kids lifted weights on their own. We started football practice at the end of July or the first of August, and we got them ready to play,” Winegarden said. “I’ve been in it when it was old school, and I’ve been in it where it’s new school. We feel like we’ve got to eat up our time with so many things. We’re going to make the best of the situation and make sure everybody’s keeping safe.”
The unexpected time at home has provided football coaches and players alike more time to themselves while also working toward the upcoming season. It’s also reinforced some important messages for players like Bradley, who said the situation is a reminder to not take anything like playing football for granted.
“I was really looking forward to it with it being my senior spring practice. It’s definitely the first of a lot of lasts, and I didn’t get to have it. That was hard for me,” Bradley said. “This has taught me to never take a snap for granted. A bunch of my friends played baseball. They didn’t get to play, and it was taken from them like that.
“Going back, I’m just going to try and take advantage of everything because I never know when it’s going to end. “