There is no game day, no bright lights, no opponent.
But football returned to Mankato’s high-school fields Monday, and there were more smiles than usual on a Monday practice on a warm September afternoon.
“It’s really weird, starting this late,” Mankato West senior Wyatt Block said. “It’s a lot different, not hitting. Social distancing is tough. But we’re making it work as best as we can.”
On Monday, high-school football teams in Minnesota were allowed to practice, with 12 workouts before Oct. 3. Volleyball teams are also allowed 12 practices within these dates. There will be no games.
The seasons for those sports were supposed to begin with the first practice Aug. 17, but last month, the Minnesota State High School League delayed football and volleyball seasons until March.
As part of that decision, a fall practice period was approved.
“I just want us to work as hard as we can,” Mankato East junior Jacob Eggert said. “We can’t take anything for granted because we could get shut down any time.”
The East and West football teams will practice Monday through Thursday for the next three weeks, with Friday open as a possible makeup date. The teams are allowed to practice in groups of 25, with limited contact.
During the first couple of days, players will work out in helmets, with shoulder pads added later in the week. There will be some practices in full pads.
West is planning to hold 7-on-7 scrimmages on Thursdays under the lights at Todnem Field. The team will also hold an intrasquad scrimmage at night on Oct. 2.
There are no specific health checks required, though players and coaches have been told that if they don’t feel good, stay home. There will be limited access to the locker room and players must bring their own water bottles. Kids that aren’t at school that day will drive to practice.
There were speed and conditioning drills and individual offense and defense periods. Coaches directed the players, at times reminding them to maintain social distance and wear masks when appropriate.
“We’re trying to establish our procedures,” East coach Eric Davis said. “It’s really going to be a feeling out process the first few days.”
The Cougars were 5-5 last season, with a playoff victory against St. Peter. Eggert is hopeful that he and his teammates can build some momentum, in case there are some games played during March, April and May.
“We’ve all been working hard since March,” Eggert said. “We lost a lot of seniors last year so we need to find some new pieces.”
West went 7-3 before a playoff loss at Chaska, and Block was hoping this would be the season when the Scarlets played for another state championship.
“I really want to show the younger players what it means to play football at West,” Block said. “It’s all about teamwork and team-bonding.”
Block has four scholarship offers from Midwest universities, but he could use more game film to show coaches as he makes his decision.
“I’m glad those offers came before all of this,” Block said. “Usually, when you’re a senior, they need to see more film. But this is my senior year. I was really looking forward to winning a state championship.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.