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Jackson’s Budd helps keep team adapted through ever-changing offseason

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Jackson head coach Tim Budd leads the Polar Bears onto the field. Budd and the coaching staff are doing what they can to keep the players focused as COVID-19 has put the season in jeopardy.

JACKSON TWP. The surest thing about the high school football season in Ohio this fall is that it will look nothing like the seasons to which players, coaches, officials and fans have become accustomed.

Everything else is subject to change and constant revision, which means that for all involved – especially players and coaches – the mental side of the game and their ability to adapt to change will be arguably more important than they've ever been in a sport where both qualities are priceless.

Veteran Jackson head coach Tim Budd has seen his team go through an adapted offseason, working out and training as allowed by the district and state health regulations. Last week, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced an abbreviated, six-week regular season for football, a decision that has left leagues around the state scrambling to rearrange schedules.

"We talked here today with our guys and reminded them that there's no guarantee we're playing any games this year, not until Gov. (Mike) DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health give it the go ahead," Budd said. "It's all conjecture until those people say there is a season."

Budd noted that the oft-used football cliche of playing each play as if it's your last could be taken more literally this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic and its ever-shifting impacts could force state and OHSAA officials to pull the plug on the season at any moment.

That aspect is out of the control of any player or coach, so for now, teams across the state are working out under existing health and safety protocols, trying to enjoy their chance to be on the field for as long as it lasts.

Even if the season is shortened or can't be completed at any point along the way, Budd believes that the sliver of normalcy that training and workouts provide for student-athletes who have dealt with plenty of life disruptions thanks to the pandemic is helpful, whether the season is six games long or some smaller number.

“I don't think we've spoken enough as country or state about the mental health of our young people ... I think we've glossed over that because the Coronavirus is bigger than us all,” Budd said. “But their mental health is important and being able to get out of house and away from a screen, to be able to exercise helps.”

He noted that the district has worked to allow teams to have activities since June and appreciates the benefits his program has thanks to Jackson's facilities, which include a large weight room, multiple practice fields and auxiliary gyms and more space than programs at smaller schools typically enjoy.

"It's definitely a blessing, although you go back and forth sometimes with the protocols we have to go through it might be easier for a smaller school where you only a have handful of players than it is for a bigger school like us, but we do have great facilities."

Part of the balance as the offseason wears on and the scheduled start of the season nears is trying to ensure that coaches keep an eye on the mental health of their players and speak with any who need to talk, but to also provide something of a respite from the stresses going on in their worlds away from football.

"We not only have our position coaches, but also myself talk to as many kids as we can every day, " Budd said. "But when they're here, we also give them as normal an experience as we can for the couple of hours here and not worry about anything else."

The fact that some fall sports have already started – those deemed non-contact or low contact, such as golf – underscores the difficulty of deciding when and how each individual sport can proceed.

The OHSAA's announcement last week stated that if the state allows the season to take place, all teams will be part of the playoffs, set to begin Oct. 9, with the state championship games to be played no later than Nov. 21. Revised playoff regions will be announced next month and in place of the typical the computer ratings system determining which teams qualify for the playoffs, the coaches in each region will conduct a tournament seed meeting the week of Sept. 28 to form the regional bracket, similar to the process in other OHSAA team sports.

How the games leading up to that point will look and sound is to be determined. OHSAA guidelines include expanding the team boxes on sidelines during games to allow for social distancing, offensive teams taking the ball back to the huddle between plays as officials mark the line of scrimmage with a bean bag, teams staying out of the locker room at halftime to avoid being in an enclosed space together and other measures will affect Friday nights across the state.

Budd has also spoken with the district's band director and they've discussed the possibility that, depending on OHSAA rules, the band may not be able to perform at games. Among the OHSAA protocols is a recommendation to shorten halftime to 10 minutes, which would likely rule out halftime shows for bands. It is, Budd pointed out, a big part of the football experience at Jackson to have the band as a component of the Friday night festivities.

Additionally, he's seen several former players, including Xavior Gray (Akron) and Hayden Junker (Kent State) have their college seasons canceled, with Jaret Pallotta (UMass) waiting to hear the fate of his team's campaign. It's all left the veteran coach aware that any football at all this fall will be a blessing.

"I tell our guys, if we get to play even one game this season, we will be really fortunate, because there are a lot of spring sport athletes who didn't get that chance to play at all this year," Budd said.

It's already been a long, weird year in both sports and society, so it's fair to say that whatever transpires from here on out with football and the world at large is likely to follow that same unpredictable trajectory, leaving those involved to adapt and make the best of what comes their way.