A-K Valley football teams return to field with protocols in place

Thursday, July 2, 2020 | 2:03 PM

Knoch football coach Brandon Mowry couldn’t sleep Tuesday night. He was a like a little kid on Christmas morning. He couldn’t stand the anticipation anymore.

“I was up at like 6 a.m. (Wednesday) morning, made my coffee and I told my wife I was leaving,” Mowry said with a laugh. “I just wanted to be here, getting stuff set up, seeing the kids, seeing the coaches.”

Like a few other teams around the A-K Valley, the Knights returned to practice Wednesday, and Mowry said his players couldn’t wait to get back onto the football field. With players split up into groups of 10 or less, and donning Knoch face masks, they went through conditioning drills, individual work, weight lifting drills and speed work on their first day back on the field.

It’s been a long couple of months for coaches and players while they’ve remained isolated during the coronavirus pandemic. Mowry said the team tried to stay in touch during the layoff, using Hudl, Zoom and a few other platforms to run through football plans and weight lifting activities. But nothing compares to actually being on the field with the players in front of you, he said.

“To get out here, moving around and doing football stuff again after three months is nice,” Mowry said.

For the next two weeks, the Knights will run through the first phase of their return-to-play plan, with practices two or three times a week. For the first two weeks, Mowry said it will be a lot of conditioning, weight lifting and individual work like they did Wednesday. But, when they enter phase two of their plan, he said they are hoping to get back to football-specific drills.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to get into more of a football workout, and we’ll still incorporate lifting and things of that nature, but we really need to get into individual work, skill development and working that kind of stuff.”

The Knights weren’t the only team to return to the gridiron on the first day of the new month. Coach Shawn Liotta and the Burrell Bucs got back to it as well, hoping to build off their first winning season since 2012.

Rising senior quarterback Alex Arledge shredded the Burrell record book last season when he passed for 2,462 yards and 27 touchdowns, and a senior-laden roster graduated at the skill positions. So, any extra time the Bucs can get to build chemistry on the offensive side is crucial.

“We have 3,600 yards to replace in receiving and rushing,” Liotta said. “We have the guy that threw it to them and handed it to them, and we have almost the entire offensive line back and that’s critical. Luckily, with guys coming out of the woodwork and we have a great group of freshmen right now, we have 17. But it’s obviously going to be a chore to replace those kids. That’s a lot of yards, so we are going to see who’s up to the task here with the guys we have.

Through their first few weeks, the Bucs are breaking their groups up with juniors and seniors working out one day and freshman and sophomores the next. On Wednesday, they had the classes split up into two groups between lifting and conditioning drills while following social distancing in both aspects. For Liotta, it was good to get the players back into the building.

“These kids need football, and they need activity in their life in general,” Liotta said. “After the past number of months of not being able to do anything, it’s phenomenal to get back out here on the field and in the weight room and we be working with these kids. We missed these kids. We missed them like crazy.”

Just like the Bucs, Deer Lakes is using summer workouts to get younger players and new coaches accustomed to the system.

After losing four coaches this offseason, Deer Lakes coach Tim Burk had to hire a new staff and filled his vacancies with five Deer Lakes alumni, including former head coach Todd Hazlett and former quarterback Pat Jones, who led the Lancers to their first playoff appearance in 2010.

For those new coaches and the younger players, this time of the year is crucial, and they are hoping to take advantage of it.

“Our coordinators are new, and we have a lot of things to install,” Burk said. “So not having May and June, it’s been tough. But we’re going to get through it, and the guys are ready. We did the Google classrooms, which I think was very helpful, but nothing is like being on the field. This is where you need to be.”

For the next two weeks, the Lancers are doing small groups of 10 to 12 without helmets, and then in their second phase, if everything is still going well, they’ll go to groups of 50 with helmets, and practices will be more football-oriented.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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