Teams wade into football season COVID-style

Watertown quarterback Brayden Cousino rolls out during practice last week.

A football season unlike any other will kick off Friday night with a number of high-powered matchups.

But many of these matchups, which would be played before packed houses in other years, may not be accessible to fans this time, especially if they haven’t bought tickets in advance as the pandemic has prompted school officials to reduce the number of spectators.

Tickets won’t be available at the gate at some stadiums but rather online or at the school in advance. Tickets for visiting fans will especially be scarce at places.

Fans unable to attend in person may be able to watch on a live stream or television or listen on radio. Fans who do go to a game will likely have to wear masks and line up for temperature checks. Concession stands are likely to be open but the offerings may be limited compared to years past.

Things are different for the teams themselves as a preseason without scrimmages and jamborees have left coaches in the dark about what to expect from their opponents, and themselves, for the opener.

Green Hill coach Josh Crouch will face these issues next week when his Hawks play for the first time, at LaVergne. Their scheduled opener with Clarksville Academy, which would have likely been played at Nokes-Lasater Field in Lebanon while last-minute work continued on the GHHS facility, was canceled by CA a couple of weeks ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gallatin at LebanonThis game was scheduled in part for a big gate. But 5,000-seat Danny Watkins Stadium will be limited to 2,500 spectators. Gallatin received 750 tickets. Fans were encouraged to purchase tickets online in advance.

“We could sell out before Gallatin rolls in here,” Lebanon coach Chuck Gentry said.

As for the Green Wave themselves, Gallatin went 9-2 last season, starting with a 28-7 win over Lebanon at Calvin Short Field. Gentry said he doesn’t know much more than that about the Wave.

“Absolutely nothing,” Gentry said when asked what he knew about the Green Wave. “No film, no scrimmages, no nothing

“They graduated 37 seniors. They have a few starters back on each side of the ball. It’s going to be the same for everybody. It’s a different year for sure. We watched a few games from last year. But they have a few transfers in we’ve heard of, and that makes things different.”

Wilson Central at SpringfieldThe Yellow Jackets, coming off a runner-up finish in the 4A BlueCross Bowl in 2018, opened the ’19 campaign by getting throttled at Wilson Central 37-7. Springfield rebounded from that debacle to go 11-4 with another second-place state finish.

“They’ve played 44 games in three years,” Wilson Central coach Brad Dedman said of the Yellow Jackets. “Their seniors are used to winning.”

And what will Springfield brings to the table this time around?

“Don’t know too much about them,” Dedman said. “They have a lot of returning guys, 15-16 starters, same coaching staff.

“We’re looking at last year’s film and making an assumption that’s what it’s going to be like. But there are no guarantees. We got to be prepared for anything.”

This game, like all games this week, may come down to which staff and players can make the better adjustments on the fly.

“We got to concentrate on us this week and as things arise, hopefully we can use our timeouts wisely and fix things as they come up,” Dedman said.

Springfield is selling just 850 tickets, with 125 going to Wilson Central. Dedman said parents have been instructed on how to purchase the ducats. WHCS’ sports information staff will broadcast the game via livestream on NFHS.

But as the visiting team, the Wildcats have another issue — how to travel. Dedman said the team will use two buses as usual.

“We’re going to social distance as best as we can,” he said. “We’re likely going to be wearing masks. As much time as we spend together, it is what it is.”

Watertown at GordonsvilleGordonsville’s 19-13 loss at Watertown started a 3-7 regular season. But the Tigers found new life in the 1A playoffs, posting a couple of victories before being ousted in the quarterfinals.

But Watertown coach Gavin Webster is like his colleagues when it comes to scouting opponents right now.

“Don’t know a lot about them,” he said. “Don’t have any film, just what I know from last year.

“We can speculate what we think, but at the end of the day, we don’t know. We’ll work on ourselves and adjust as we go.”

They can look at last year’s roster and take those seniors out of the equation and also check to make sure the same coaching staff is in place.

“They got a lot of young skill guys back, lost a lot of linemen, but they did get two linemen transfers,” Webster said. “They got a running back transfer… Still the same coaching staff.”

Some good news for fans of both teams, there will be no limit on the number of fans attending the game at Turney Ford Field. Gordonsville athletic director Butch Agee said fans will have their temperature checked. CDC guidelines will be posted and spectators will be asked to follow those.

Webster said the Purple Tigers are itching to play.

“Our kids are excited to play,” he said. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.

“We’re probably not as ready as we’d like to be, but we’re probably as ready as we’re ever going to be.”

Friendship Christian at Trousdale CountyA matchup which used to have region championship and playoff implications will likely be played to a half-packed house at John Kerr Field. FCS received 130 tickets ($10 each) with parents of players and cheerleaders getting first dibs. The bulk of the tickets went on sale (maximum of four) at TCHS late yesterday afternoon and, if any remained, from 8-11 a.m. today. No tickets will be available at the gate.

“That’s what I always loved whenever we went over there — the great atmosphere,” Commander coach John McNeal said of the rivalry with the Yellow Jackets. “But we’re getting to play. That’s a positive.”

As for the Yellow Jackets themselves, go back through history because not much of the present is known.

“I can’t tell you anything about them,” McNeal said. “I know they have a lot of returning starters.

“I assume they’re going to be similar to what they were, but that’s just a guess. You can only go on what they did last year.”

What the Yellow Jackets did last year under first-year coach Blake Satterfield was reach the Class 2A semifinals with an 11-2 record. What they’ve done since is known only to them.

“We’re all in the same boat,” McNeal said. “Nobody knows what anybody’s doing.

“I would guess most people are really more worried about their own. With no scrimmages, it’s been hard to see where you’re at. It’s probably going to be a very interesting week of football, the most interesting since I’ve been coaching.”

Stewarts Creek at Mt. JulietFans who are unable to purchase the 1,300 tickets made available for this game have a better option than any other in the state. It’ll be televised as part of the MyTV 30 Friday Night Rivals package.

Those who attend or tune in will see a team which went 8-3 try to repeat its 19-14 win over Mt. Juliet last year.

Mt. Juliet coach Trey Perry said he knew “little to nothing” about the Red Hawks.

“They have a new head coach (Ben Caudill, promoted from defensive coordinator and is now running the offense),” Perry said. “I think he told me they hired nine new assistants.

“There is an expectation we’re going to see things we don’t expect Friday. I think that’ll be for both teams to some extent. We think a lot of the offensive principles will be the same.”

Many of the Red Hawks won’t be the same as they graduated some 30 players last year.

“But the people they do return are significant,” said Perry, noting the quarterback who finished the season is back, as is the kicker, Upton Bellenfant. “He’s the No. 1 kicker in the country 2023 class.

“He has a weapon attached to his right leg.”

Perry said after an offseason with nothing more than weight lifting and conditioning and practicing against themselves, everyone is ready to kick off the season, and not just the players.

“I don’t think anybody has to get the pom poms out to get ready to play,” Perry said. “I think everybody’s ready to play football.

“I noticed it (Monday) at school. The students are excited to be here.”

Goodpasture at Mt. Juliet Christian

Mt. Juliet Middle’s Barry Wilmore Field will see its first high school game since 2007 when Mt. Juliet High, which had played there since 1968, whipped Tullahoma 42-14 in a playoff game before moving to the current Curd Road campus the next year.

This time it’s Mt. Juliet Christian, which is borrowing the 52-year-old facility this season while its own campus down North Mt. Juliet Road undergoes rebuilding from the March 3 tornado, playing host to Goodpasture in the 2020 season opener.

Wilmore Field, known as Elzie Patton Stadium during the latter stages of its MJHS tenure before the name was more recently transferred to the Curd Road facility, is larger than the Saints’ destroyed Suey Field home. Coach Dan Davis said he facility has been cleared to seat 1,700 spectators during the COVID pandemic, but would be limited to 1,000 for the opener. Tickets will be sold at the gate. Fans will be required to wear masks and undergo a temperature check.

“We want to keep everybody safe and it’s our first time with all the new procedures,” Davis said. “We’ll go under the number and make sure we do everything well.”

While plans are in place for spectators, Davis and his peers will have to play the game itself by ear as he knows little about the Goodpasture team which whipped his Saints 35-7 in Madison a year ago to begin a 4-7 season.

“They got a new coach (Tyler Turner),” Davis said of the Cougars. “I know nothing.

“I can (watch) what he did at Olive Branch (Miss.) and make my guess. He’s got most of the main team from last year. He’s not missing a lot of parts.”

Davis said he expects to focus on his team for the opener and less on the opposition, much like a scrimmage, only this one counts.

“In this day and age, nobody got to scrimmage anybody but themselves, I think everybody is going to do what they do,” he said. “It’s a non-district game. I think we’re just excited to get to hit somebody else.

“I think every high school kid in Tennessee is ready to play football if they can, and so are we.”

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