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Playing 8-man football looks a lot different from 11-man football. With three fewer players on either side, the field opens up and there's more space with which to work.
That's extremely helpful during the coronavirus pandemic, when social distancing is important. That fact isn't lost on Clarendon Hall head coach Anthony Reitenour.
"If we had a 70-man roster, what we're doing right now would get destroyed. It would be almost impossible unless I had 20 volunteers to help me run it all," said Reitenour. "My assistants and I are doing a great job of separating out and doing stuff with the groups we have, and it would definitely be a lot tougher with bigger groups. That is one luxury for us with 8-man, because we do have a smaller group."
Having a smaller group doesn't just make it easier to practice. It also makes tracking exposure to the virus much simpler, so it's easier for Clarendon Hall to stay healthy.
"It's also a luxury for us to kind of limit and track exposure to this whole thing," said Reitenour. "We do all of our screening and everything before every practice. We do all the forms, take all the temperatures, and it's a lot easier for me as a head coach to keep tabs on every single one of my kids and check in on them if I hear a rumor that so-and-so tested positive, when was the last time our players were around that family. It's a lot easier for me to track that kind of stuff and we are able to provide -- I can't say safe because right now, realistically, anything can happen with this thing - but the safest possible route of working out with these kids."
The actual workouts have been pretty simple at Clarendon Hall. The Saints can use equipment now because SCISA is in Phase 2 of its return to sports, but Clarendon Hall is still primarily focused on conditioning and weight training. The pandemic has forced Reitenour and his staff to be more creative, and he thinks they've benefitted because of that.
"We've had to think outside the box. Instead of our traditional workouts where we all pile in the weight room and work out then go outside and do some cardio, we've really implemented a lot of different strength training to our regimen," said Reitenour. "We're working on a lot of functional strength, we're carrying a lot of dumbbells. We've got dumbbells all over the football field, just trying to get a little bit more creative, to think outside the box for how to get more out of them. To be honest, I think we're getting better results than we have in the last few years.
"The only thing we've really progressed to for SCISA in Phase 2 to actually be able to use a ball, so we have started to implement a ball into a lot of our drills. But it's mainly been holding the ball, just getting used to having that football in our hands while we're focused primarily on explosiveness and strength."
The student-athletes at Clarendon Hall have been happy to return to the field. After being stuck at home for months, this has been a welcome reprieve.
"Just for those kids to be around their teammates and some of their coaches and have that atmosphere of something normal for them, I think that did motivate them a little bit after being cooped up for so long." Said Reitenour. "The atmosphere has been great."
While the atmosphere has been good, the threat of the pandemic is still in the back of everyone's mind. Reitenour is just trying to do the best he can to help keep kids safe.
"I'm not going to say (anyone is) hesitant, but there has been some worry and there have been some parents that have expressed some worry," said Reitenour. "All we can really do to that is practice every possible method that we can to provide the safest workout environment we can."
Cases of the coronavirus are still growing in South Carolina and that's caused a number of schools across the state to cancel workouts. Reitenour has no plans to cancel workouts yet, but he's closely monitoring the situation.
"It's something we're watching very closely. We have been keeping track of it, not only for the kids themselves, but the families around them," said Reitenour. "With a small group, we're able to track it a little better, so right now we haven't really had that thought or fear of having to close down, but there's been talks.
"Completely closing it down, we haven't gotten to that point yet, but the minute we see a need or concern, if we have a player test (positive) or a player's parent test (positive), anything like that, then that's something we would look at and address immediately."
Reitenour wasn't sure what workouts would look like this summer because the Saints were going through a difficult offseason without a big senior class. Last year's class was a vocal group led by players like Zyan Gilmore and Kade Elliot. Clarendon Hall only has two seniors this year, but his players have stepped up when they've needed too so far.
"I was worried about how we were going to be this year and who we're going to be (the leaders), because we only have two seniors this year," said the Clarendon Hall head coach. "The first day of workouts Kylic Horton, a rising junior, he came out there and started leading. He started doing the things that I expect from him, but I didn't expect so early, but the things I've been grooming him to do.
"It was kind of a wow moment. It might not have been that senior leadership, it might not be that experienced leadership, but I feel like the team's cohesiveness and leadership is already there and we haven't even had our first actual practice. Coming into it I had some reservations and some worries, but I'm pretty confident right now."
Now Reitenour just has to hope that the season goes on as planned. During the season, Reitenour preaches taking things one week at a time and he's taking the same approach now. The Saints are getting ready for Week 1, whenever that is, and they'll go from there.
"I expect it to be Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4. I was laughing the other day talking with someone about it. I take football season a week at a time. I don't want to know what the team on the other side of the conference is doing in Week 2, I'll worry about them Week 6 when we play them," said Reitenour. "I'm going to take the same approach this year. We're going to concentrate on Week 1, then we're going to concentrate on Week 2. Whether its COVID or whatever it is, we're going to adapt and do what we have to do no matter what.
"I don't want to try to predict the future or have all these plans. We're going to prepare for Week 1 like it's coming until we're told not to. We're going to prepare the summer workouts until we have a reason not to or we're told not to. We're just going to keep that same pattern of one week at a time."
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