Who needs to lift free weights when you have a cat?
Ordinarily, high school weight rooms and playing fields at this time of year would be filled with football players honing their bodies so they can hit the ground running without being too winded when official practice starts on July 30.
But because of COVID-19 and the state’s restrictions — Gov. Ralph Northam has a ban on groups of more than 10 until at least June 10, and the Virginia High School League is not permitting anyone to practice before July at the earliest — high school facilities are bereft of athletes.
Football players are mostly working out on their own inside their homes, on their back and front lawns, or whatever patch of open real estate they can find near their homes. They’re using educational and athletic apps to post their workouts and Twitter to share videos and pictures of those workouts, all of which help keep everyone accountable and motivated.
The workouts are competitive (Millbrook and Clarke County have been involved in challenges with non-area schools), inspirational (Millbrook chose to participate in the Virginia Run for the Fallen, which honors members of the military who died in the line of duty) and certainly unique.
Given that a lot of athletes either have no access or limited access to weights, creativity is a must. That leads to Sherando football players pushing and pulling trucks and people like Clarke County sophomore offensive lineman/linebacker TJ Lowery doing squats with a cat, a picture of which can be found on the Eagles’ football Twitter account (@ClarkeCoFB).
“It was a big ol’ cat, too,” said Clarke County football coach Casey Childs with a laugh. “Basically we wanted people to load up bookbags or something like that with 10 to 20 pounds of stuff, and have them hold it over their heads while doing basic squats.
“[Getting creative] is what it’s about. It’s different times for everybody. Education’s kind of changed a little bit, and obviously the workouts that we’re trying to do kind of change as well.”
Under normal circumstances, players could go to an out of season practice, or a lifting and conditioning session, and see with their own eyes what their teammates are doing while coaches monitor everyone. Seeing what a teammate is doing can motivate a player to make them work even harder.
“It’s great [seeing what my teammates are doing online],” said Clarke County junior tight end and defensive tackle Wynn Morris. “Honestly, I think we’re going to be more prepared for this year than we were last year.
“Everyone’s trying to beat each other. I think it’s going to help, especially the way the workouts are designed. We’re in really, really, good shape for when everything starts up again.”
Watching a teammate knock out 20 push-up/stand-up/jump repetitions in 46 seconds on Twitter might not be how the football players at Millbrook and William Byrd High School in Vinton envisioned how their May days would go. But it helps with the process of keeping physically fit.
Millbrook head coach Josh Haymore and William Byrd coach Brad Lutz introduced that exercise on May 11 as a fun challenge for players on the two teams to do in addition to the regular fitness routines they provided (46 seconds was chosen because that number represents the number of tackles former William Byrd player Tyler Snow had in his junior year at James Madison University). Haymore used to be an assistant for Lutz at Broadway High School.
“The past four weeks, the competition with William Byrd has been really good,” Haymore said. “The kids have done a really good job.
“A lot of that social media stuff is keeping the kids connected to the coaches and each other. It’s showing how [junior wide receiver/defensive back] Jacob Ford is working out, it’s showing everybody is doing it. It’s a way to put it out there for them.”
At Clarke County, everybody truly has been working out during this process. If you poke your head into the Clarke County weight room when school is open, odds are you’re going to find at least one of the team’s football coaches working up a sweat through lifting weights. Those coaches helped set the offseason tone with their workouts early on.
One of the earlier workouts that Clarke posted was the “1000 Workout” which involved 100 air squats, 100 sit-ups, 100 squat jumps, 100 feet inclined push-ups. 100 walking lunges, 100 wide-gripped push-ups, 100 burpees, 100 close or diamond push-ups, 10 10-yard sprints, 100 regular push-ups, five 20-yard sprints, then a second set of 100 push-ups. Both the Clarke coaches and players did this, with pictures of the time spent on the exercise and the exhausted participants posted on Twitter.
“Our coaches ... it kind of hurt us a little bit, “ Childs said. “I was sore for days, let me tell you, and I work out every day. [The coaches] just wanted to show that we were going to work hard, and we wanted the kids to do stuff, and that even though we weren’t together, we were still working out with them.”
Recently, Clarke County was involved in a push-up challenge with Bull Run District rivals Strasburg and East Rockingham.
“I got really competitive for that one,” Morris said. “Clarke put up some really good numbers against everybody else. Incorporating other schools is giving everybody a reason to get motivated.”
Clarke County also posted a workout on Twitter in which every exercise tied into a letter in the word “coronavirus” — crunches for “C”, overhead lunges for “O”, run for “R”, etc. With apps like Google Duo, Childs noted it’s not hard to get together with his fellow coaches and come up with workout plans that will engage and test their players.
At Millbrook, Haymore came up with a unique way to do push-ups with the 52-card challenge, in which players would take a deck of cards and do the number of push-ups represented on the card they turned over. (Face cards are 10 push-ups, aces are 11), and players had to keep flipping the cards until they got through the entire deck. Haymore demonstrated this on @MillbrookFB.
The most notable exercise that Millbrook participated in was the annual Virginia Run for the Fallen.
Inspired by the annual American Run for the Fallen that takes place over 6,000 miles, the Virginia Run for the Fallen is ordinarily a compilation of people who run 250 miles over a four-day span from the Fort Story military base in Virginia Beach to Arlington National Cemetery. Each mile in the event honors specific Virginia military members who were killed in the past two decades while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This year’s Run for the Fallen (April 30-May 3) was a virtual running event because of COVID-19, and Millbrook decided to take part it in and continue a theme. Haymore has been honoring the military members, police officers and rescue workers who died in the line of duty by telling his players about them and having their backgrounds shared over the public address system prior to Millbrook home games ever since he came to the school in 2013. Millbrook honors the same people each year.
A few weeks ago, Millbrook’s players chose to run for people from the Iraq and Afghanistan war efforts, but some players also chose to run for their own relatives who perished in other military conflicts. In total, Millbrook and William Byrd dedicated 344 miles to 344 soldiers.
“The biggest thing we really accomplished with that one was they had to research fallen soldiers,” Haymore said. “The whole goal of a tribute to heroes before the game is to bring awareness of your freedoms and the people who actually fight for those freedoms every day.
“For the kids to understand there’s more of a world outside of Winchester, and that these people sacrifice so much, that’s what we really wanted to do with this. I think the kids did a great job of looking up information on the soldiers.”
On the @SherandoFB Twitter, there are almost daily reminders of what the players are doing to stay in shape and improve themselves.
Head coach Bill Hall said by posting workouts on social media, it shows college coaches what the Warriors football players are doing since players can’t demonstrate their skills to them in person because of COVID-19.
“People can see them move or see different traits that they’re looking for,” Hall said.
Sherando has divided its players into 13 groups of five. Using the Rack Performance app, Sherando engages in lifting workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at home, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays they conduct speed and agility training.
Each five-member team gets one point for each player who does the workout and three additional points if all five members of the team do the workout, which adds up to eight points. Each team member also gets a point for submitting a video to Hall, with three bonus points added if the entire team submits videos, for a total of eight points. If each of those five team members then post their workouts to social media, the video point total is doubled and that team achieves a score of 16. A perfect overall score is 24.
“We’ve had five or six or seven teams that are kind of pretty consistent getting everybody in,” Hall said. “We’ve had a lot of good guys working. But if you had one or two [not completing an assignment], then all the sudden you don’t get a perfect score.
“It creates a connection with our team. It creates accountability with our team. I talk with the captains of those 13 teams every day and they report back to me between 7:30 and 8:30 at night. And we meet with our guys on [Google] Hangout on Tuesdays and Thursdays offensively and defensively.”
Sherando is paying respect to players who are working hard and demonstrating leadership as part of a video segment on Twitter called “Building Warriors.” Hall talks about certain players in the videos, and the players are also expressing their appreciation for their teammates’ effort by sharing a short statement in these videos.
“It improves competition. If you get recognized for your work ethic, everybody’s going to want to try harder and get recognized more and more,” said junior lineman Parker Clendenen, who praised tight end/linebacker Saxton Garver in a video. “I think the ‘Building Warriors’ is really good for showing people off who are working hard.”
Sherando also has posted some unique workouts. Clendenen is one of several offensive linemen who engaged in individual six-second truck pushes and pulls. Clendenen said that was offensive line coach John Minteer’s idea.
“We started out first with what I think was a Toyota Tacoma, then we just slowly worked our way up,” Clendenen said. “We pushed my truck, which is a 2006 Ford F-150 with a six-inch lift kit on it and 40-inch tires. I think that was one of the best workout videos that we posted.”
Handley coach Dan Jones said his team has been using Google Classroom to post workouts and is looking to do interactive Zoom workouts soon.
Judges junior wide receiver/defensive back Jayden Vardaro said he hasn’t found it difficult to work out on his own.
“I’ve just got to motivate myself to do it every single day,” Vardaro said. “I’ve just got to make sure I’m doing my sets and reps so I’m in shape.”
James Wood coach Ryan Morgan said assistant coach Jordan Hartman has done an excellent job of putting together workouts that have been distributed through Google Classroom. Morgan said players have been getting together in small groups to lift and do things like yoga and stretching.
“We’ve kind of wanted some of the leaders to take videos of themselves working out to show a little bit of leadership and encourage the other players to work out,” Morgan said. “If the leaders are doing it, then the guys who are younger might follow suit.”
Morgan said James Wood tells its players to make do with whatever they can for strength training — maybe even another human.
“We’ve encouraged players to do their basic Olympic lifts, the bench pressing, and the squats,” Morgan said. “Most of the kids don’t have the benches and the racks and bars and plates.
“If you can’t find plates, pick up some paint cans, or pick up your little brother. Try to add a little bit of variety and a little bit of added weight besides just your body weight.”