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ECC's high school football players, despite an uncertain future, just keep showing up

Their season was effectively canceled a week ago with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's decision that there would be no high school football in an 11-on-11 format during the 2020-21 school year.

That left Connecticut's high school football players on an island, the only high school sport — considered "high risk" by the state's Department of Public Health due to the perils of COVID-19 — which will not be contested this fall.

And yet the players and coaches are doing what they always do this time of year, what they know how to do, weaving between cones, sweating through the humidity of late summer.

They just keep showing up.

"I want to work out. I want to keep this going," New London senior lineman Teshuah Williams said prior to Thursday's practice. "This is my life we're talking about right here. I keep trying to push through."

"We're still seniors," East Lyme senior running back Patrick Tolley said. "It's our job to show up for the younger kids."

There's still hope. Following Wednesday's rally at the state Capitol building, which featured more than 1,200 high school football players from across the state trying to salvage their season, Gov. Ned Lamont called for a meeting between the CIAC and the Department of Public Health to brainstorm ways to allow football to take place safely, whether it be in the fall or during the spring. That meeting will take place Friday.

The CIAC has already ruled that any sport not taking place this fall would not be moved to another season, but there are calls to reverse that with regard to football.

East Lyme coach Rudy Bagos called the numerous stops and starts during the preseason, as well as the fact that football was the only sport slated for cancellation "mind-boggling."

"The only thing I know, these kids love football," Bagos said. "They want to play. When we found out on Friday the season was canceled I sent them a message on TeamReach and told them we were still going to practice. It might be canceled, but it's not over. Practice like it's going to be reversed.

"No one's not come to practice."

At New London, meanwhile, coach Johnny Burns, taking a look around at his players before practice, said there are some athletes who have stopped attending due to the overabundance of uncertainty.

"I'm going to give you some honest answers," Burns said. "We're still conditioning but we don't consider what we're doing to be practices. The mood, as much as the players put smiles on their faces as much as they can, everybody's a bit floored.

"The pause button has been pushed to some degree since March. Now there's been five major ups and downs on the ride. Disappointing is an understatement, for sure."

On Aug. 12, the CIAC announced it would stick with a previously announced plan to hold a condensed fall season for all sports. The following day, however, a letter from the DPH was made public recommending that the CIAC move football and girls' volleyball (a moderate-risk sport) to the spring or cancel them.

Then, on Aug. 14, the CIAC ordered a halt to all in-person sports-related activities, including conditioning, while it met further with the DPH. Conditioning resumed on Aug. 24. On Aug. 27, the CIAC announced that all fall sports were on schedule and would begin competition on Oct. 1.

On Sept. 4, the CIAC said that volleyball could proceed by wearing masks indoors. Football season in an 11-on-11 format was canceled.

Football in a 7-on-7 format has been discussed, reducing the risk, but that would eliminate all line play, not something New London's Williams, a guard/defensive end, really wants to consider.

"It really bums me out," Williams said of the suggestion of 7-on-7. "I've been playing this sport since I was so little. I hope we just push through all this."

Tolley and fellow East Lyme running back Aidan Cary said they also couldn't imagine playing without all of their teammates, especially the line, which has traditionally carved a path for the successful East Lyme running backs of the past.

"They're more important than us," Cary said of the linemen. "If they didn't block for us, we wouldn't be running backs."

New London's Williams and fellow senior Jaylen Callender, a running back/receiver, were among those players who attended the rally Wednesday in Hartford.

"Basically it was a lot of kids," Callender said. "NBC and all these news stations were there. You could feel the energy. You could clearly see every football player wanted to play in the fall. It's our senior year. You can't be recruited in the spring. You've got to make a decision (where to go to college). Spring would be too late.

"This team right here, they're like my family. There's no sport like football, to be honest. (Coach Burns) might be your coach, but he's also your mentor. It's just more a family than anything."











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