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As season nears, Jackson football ready to get back to normal

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Jackson quarterback Hunter Geissinger celebrates a touchdown pass to receiver Jake Ryan against Lake last season.

JACKSON TWP. In arguably the weirdest, most disjointed year anyone can remember, even the a return to normal isn't so normal.

Week 1 of the high school football season is always welcomed happily by players, coaches and fans across Ohio, but as the new campaign launches this week, it comes with a new outlook for participants thanks to all the COVID-19 pandemic has brought.

"Nothing is normal ... I spend probably about 75 percent of the normal time for football on COVID protocols," Jackson head coach Tim Budd said.

That his team is opening on the road Friday against perennial Federal League power Canton McKinley, as odd as it may seem, is somewhat secondary for Budd.

After months of uncertainty about whether there would be a season and if so, how many games it would contain – not to mention how those games would look and function – have left the veteran coach merry thankful for the scheduled six-game slate in front of the Polar

"I have full faith in our players that they're going to compete and have fun and be focused on the bigger picture," Budd said. "It's not about the league ... our normal Week 1 opener, (Akron) East, doesn't have the opportunity to play this week and a lot of teams across Ohio don't."

East is sidelined until Oct. 1 because health officials in Summit County have recommended that fall sports delay their start due to the pandemic.

That all teams will make the playoffs mitigates the sting somewhat, but that arrangement also creates a bizarre dynamic in which some teams will play just one regular-season contest before starting a postseason that could lead to a state championship.

Jackson was among the teams able to play a scrimmage before its opener and Budd says that was beneficial for the Polar Bears.

"We were lucky to get a scrimmage in and with everyone making the playoffs, these first two weeks are going to be like your second and third scrimmages in a way," Budd said. "You have to figure out are you playing the right personnel and are you running the right schemes for your personnel. Last year, we didn't get that figured out until probably Week 3."

Among the questions to be answered for Jackson is how new starting quarterback Hunter Geissinger will settle in under center.

Budd saw his junior signal caller play as if "he had the weight of the world on his shoulders" in the team's lone scrimmage. Against McKinley, he wants Geissinger – and the rest of his players – to appreciate the opportunity to play a sport they love alongside friends.

"It's just about getting opportunities to play ... our district is committed to giving our athletes as many opportunities to play as possible and it's great to see students not sitting behind screens, but getting out there and playing."

As an added bonus, Jackson players get to have their opener at a venue their coach describes as "one of the best high school stadiums in the country," Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.

The stadium will be much emptier than normal, as the crowd will be limited due to the pandemic. Each Jackson player will receive two tickets to allow parents, relatives or others to come see them play.

The number of players traveling will also be limited as administrators seek to keep everyone safe while allowing the game to be played.

When the ball is finally kicked off Friday night, it will be a sight most in attendance have seen hundreds of times before. Yet somehow, it's likely to feel anything but normal.