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Jackson football can’t weather storm in opener like no others

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Johnny Kulich (center) of Jackson tries to pick up yardage before being taken down by McKinley's Brian Pinkney (left)  and Jonah Lytle during their game at McKinley on Friday, August 28, 2020. (CantonRep.com / Scott Heckel)\r

JACKSON TWP. In truth, the 2020 season opener couldn't have unfolded any differently for high school football teams across Northeast Ohio.

A Week 1 that kicked off a six-game regular season followed by a playoff format in which every team in the state is part of the bracket was marked by storms, lightning, weather delays and a generally disjointed evening that was already steeped in weirdness due to the guidelines and restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We had numerous delays," Jackson head coach Tim Budd said. "It sure was strange, but it's pretty much par for the course this year."

The opener went down as a 30-0 road loss to Canton McKinley for a young Jackson team returning just two starters on each side of the ball from a squad that made the playoffs one season ago.

The first week of the season revealed rough edges and concerns for teams across the area after having fewer scrimmages than normal and doing less contact work in practice because of COVID protocols.

With a shortened season, the amount of time teams have to get up to speed is reduced and yet, there is plenty that needs done.

"I would just say we have a ton of work to do nowhere near where need to be," Budd said. "We're struggling to build chemistry and camaraderie because we're constantly telling players to stay away from each other due to COVID ... our physicality is lacking, but you can't really hit in practice due to COVID."

Anyone who attended a game over the weekend likely saw players make mistakes they may not make in a normal season, but don't expect them or their coaches to try to use the pandemic and its impact as an excuse.

"The positives are that we played a lot of young an inexperienced players and they learned a lot," Budd said.

He liked the way running backs Griffin McKinney and Brenden Craig toted the pigskin in the second half and hopes the feeling of running hard and moving the chains in the final two quarters carries over to upcoming games.

Opening on the road against one of the favorites for the Federal League title is a tall challenge for a young, mostly inexperienced Jackson team. Coming home to host Lake in Week 2 for their home opener would seem to be a welcome development for the Polar Bears, but restrictions on crowd size mean that a home opener isn't quite the event it was in past seasons.

"There's no students at the game and you're limited to two tickets per player," Budd said. "The atmosphere is poor (compared to games with normal crowds) ... our focus on getting as many games played for our athletes as we can."

Listen to Budd – or coaches other local schools – talk about the season and it's clear that the challenges of the season are weighing on them.

They appreciate the chance to be together as a team and play the game they love, but the daily realities of what it takes to be able to play while adhering to health and safety rules and policies are frustrating at times - as they are for people in all walks of life.

Week 1 of the season was unquestionably odd and uneven, with more of the same seemingly in store for the rest of the season. Hopefully, at a minimum, the skies overhead will clear and the lightning will cease, allowing some semblance of a normal flow to return to Friday nights.

Week 2: Lake at Jackson

When: Friday, 7 p.m.

Where: Robert Fife Stadium, Jackson Twp.

Last meeting: Jackson won 28-3 a year ago at Lake

At a glance: Both teams look to regroup from losses in the season – and Federal League – openers. Jackson fell 30-0 at McKinley while Lake suffered a 21-3 setback at Perry.

Jackson at McKinley High School Football; Friday, August 28, 2020.