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This summer has made for a difficult offseason for coaches across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it has been especially difficult for new coaches. Brannon Tidwell has been trying to establish a new energy to the football program at Thomas Sumter Academy, which so far has meant starting with the basics. The South Carolina Independent School Association has allowed schools to implement footballs into their practices this summer, but Tidwell says his team hasn't graduated to that level yet.
"We've only gone out one day and used a football," said Tidwell. "It's been a lot of footwork stuff and the biggest thing for us is finding the guys that want to show up and be there every day and get out of bed and be ready at 7:15 (a.m.) every day. We're just trying to get them to buy into what they're doing and get everyone to be accountable."
So far, the Generals have done a great job of being accountable. Tidwell says his varsity roster is currently sitting at 16 players who have all bought in to what he's trying to establish, and they have been thrilled to come to practice.
"They're all in. They're so excited and getting after it," said Tidwell. "They're in great spirits, and I think they can see what we're doing and believe what we're doing. I think there's a craving for success for football at Thomas Sumter."
Things haven't been perfect at Thomas Sumter so far though. Tidwell said his team has had some scares, but constant health checks have kept his practices safe.
"The biggest thing is just keeping them spaced out and keeping everything sanitized, all the questions you have to ask them each day, keeping all the paperwork, doing all the temperature checks," said Tidwell. "We've had scares, I would say, when family members have symptoms -- a fever, whatever, a cough, sore throat, headaches. Basically what I told the kids is that until we know what's going on, don't come back, stay home and it's worked so far.
"There's been two or three like that so far, but we're getting the information and the facts that we need and once we get the thumbs up, we continue on, but it hasn't been an easy deal. Everyone is on the same page, and we're making it work to the best of our abilities."
Health risks have kept one player at home so far due to having at-risk family members, but he's been able to work out at home to feel like a member of the team from afar.
"There's one young man on the team that has not been here, and it's completely excused because it's more of a COVID thing," said Tidwell. "His mom and grandma are not in great health, so we've pretty much all made the decision to have him stay at home. He's been doing a lot of the workouts we have at home by himself and that's completely excused, because we have to keep them safe on their end."
Tidwell said that lone player that's had to stay home is the only major hiccup so far. All of the other parents that have reached out to him are comfortable with having their kids practicing at TSA. That means the Generals will continue to practice. Some schools across the state have pulled back on workouts as cases continue to rise in South Carolina, but Tidwell says that TSA will continue to practice until parents or players voice concern.
"We've done a good job of checking and spacing and things like that, so we're going to keep going," said Tidwell. "I know some people have called it off right now, but we're just going to keep listening to (SCISA athletic director) Mike (Fanning) and listening to our parents, because if there's a big concern with them, family is above football. We just haven't had that. We're just going to stick with what we get each week."
One thing that makes practicing a lot easier for Thomas Sumter is roster size. The Generals can distance themselves a lot easier with a roster of 16, which takes a lot of pressure off of Tidwell and his staff.
"It's a lot easier. I've seen things on Twitter and talking to buddies and it's almost like they have to be there the whole day," said Tidwell. "That's intense, but that's the way it is if you want to get these kids in there. It's a lot easier with a smaller group to get things done proficiently."
The coronavirus pandemic also put one other bump in the road for the Generals. New offensive coordinator Terry Anton hasn't been physically with the team yet, as he's been forced to quarantine in Hawaii after visiting family there. Anton returned to South Carolina on July 3, just in time for the Generals to have a scheduled week off after the Fourth of July weekend. TSA was finally at full strength on Monday, as Anton was able to return to practice for the first time.
"Our offensive coordinator, Terry Anton, who was with me at Cardinal Newman, he got quarantined in Hawaii, so good for him," joked Tidwell. "When he gets back, we'll get the footballs out there a little bit and do some things out there on the field."
Now that Thomas Sumter has everyone in one place, it can properly start planning for the season. Tidwell is optimistic football will be played, even if the season doesn't start on time.
"Mike has come out with SCISA saying that we're going to play. We don't have huge crowds and we can space people out and things like that," said Tidwell. "I'm a glass-half-full kind of guy, so basically we're going to take it one day at a time and one week at a time. Until something comes out that's more extreme like they're cancelling, we'll cross that bridge.
"I think we're going to play, even if we're starting in October and we're doing an October, November and December season, I think there will be football."
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