LIVINGSTON, NJ — The 2020 football season won't be the same at Livingston High School. It will start late, it will be shorter and it will be preceded by only one scrimmage.
But, as August comes to a close, that football season is still on track to happen, and that alone seems like a victory of sorts after a pandemic-marred spring and summer that put the status of fall scholastic sports in serious doubt.
That doubt remains, but even most New Jersey schools like Livingston that are beginning the academic year with no in-class learning are planning to have a fall sports season — even football, the sport with the most physical contact.
"Everything has been going really well," said Livingston football head coach Bob Breschard. "It's very different — not like any of my first 25 years of coaching, put they together a plan and gave us guidelines to follow. We have had kids who are just so happy to be back with each other. The first day back on the field was like Christmas, Hannukah and New Year's Eve all wrapped in one. It was a special day."
The football team was allowed to hold summer workouts with significant limitations through Aug. 28. Now the team has entered a "blackout" phase with no practices of any kind until Sept. 14. On that date, they'll resume preparations for opening night, which is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 3 at East Orange. That will be the first of six scheduled games, with at least one post-season game planned for November.
The team's lone pre-season scrimmage will be Saturday, Sept. 25 at Montville, as long as there are no setbacks.
So far, there have not been any.
"Nothing has happened at all, and that's a good thing. We're working hard to keep it that way," Breschard said. "I think like anybody else we are cautiously optimistic. We know what we learned from the spring. We know what could happen, but I am optimistic that this is going to go forward. As long as we continue to be smart and do our best keep ourselves safe and others safe, we'll be OK."
Breschard said that the nature of early practices with severe restrictions on what players and coaches were allowed to do was a unique adjustment.
"The first week we had to practice without the ball, with no equipment on the field," he said. "We wanted to make sure that hour and a half we had was still worth something to them. I was only allowed to have half my team in pads, separated by five yards.
"Coaching was different. There will be things that will be different, but as long as the kids are on the field and are playing and competing. Hopefully (we'll be) winning games, too, but playing and competing is the most important thing besides staying healthy."
Breschard said that during the blackout period until mid-September, the players will continue to work out on their own.
"We'll go [more than] two weeks with virtual contact only," he said. "We have created workout they can do virtually, working on their upper body and lower body, there's a running program, and they can do that anywhere. We designed it so they can do it even in front of their house."
Breschard explained that workouts are currently being conducted in groups, noting that least 10 kids can be in each group and be accountable to each other. During Zoom meetings, Breschard explained that one student leader has been assigned for each group.
When the Lancers come back on Sept. 14, it is going to be "full steam ahead with helmets and pads," th coach said.
"In a way, this kind of makes you focus on what you are really good at," said Breschard. "We put a lot of extra stuff to see what it looks like, but one scrimmage makes us more disciplined as coaches. Instead of installing (the equivalent of) the entire dictionary in the playbook, we'll only be installing A, B and C. We know what the kids are good at, who is coming back, and we do have a few returners in key spots who run the show on each side of the ball."
Although the coaching staff is going to try to be disciplined in streamlining the playbook, Breschard said that the players on the team will need to practice a different kind of discipline.
"They have to make good social decisions," said Breschard. "When we are out and about, make sure we are smart with what we do. It's very important. When they go out in the world, away from the football program, they are making their decisions for themselves. We are stressing, when you go someplace, follow the guidelines. Be smart. Kids realize how important it is for us to be smart. Nobody wants to go backwards."