Uncharted Territory: Defending State Champion North Shore Prepares for no Spring Football
HOUSTON – Spring football has become a "right of passage" over the years at North Shore High School as players go head-to-head to prove their worth of making that coveted varsity roster come the fall.
For the first time in his 25 years on campus, Jon Kay is preparing to not have that spring-time event, which for his program plays a vital role.
"[Spring football] is such a huge part of our evaluation process," Kay said. "I've been fooled before by kids in t-shirts and shorts that look awesome. Then when we put the pads on it's a completely different kid. I think you see that at every level."
Currently, the University Interscholastic League has cancelled all activities until May 4, which includes spring football practices, during that time, due to the Coronavirus Outbreak.
North Shore has historically not started until after the regional track meets. But as high school sports continue into this "unchartered territory" the thought of not having spring football at all is turning from a hypothetical into a reality.
"The thing I love about spring football is you're not game-planning, so there's no time wasted to teach specific schemes or anything for an opponent," Kay said. "Everything is fundamentals and the basic pillars of your program. I think you can still do that part early in Fall Camp, but I just don't know if we're going to be able push the kids to the limits we would in the spring."
Even though there is the loss of a maximum of 12 full-contact practices and a total of 18 practices, his team would be missing out on this spring, Kay is looking at it from a different perspective as well – a time to heal.
North Shore enters this spring as the back-to-back defending Class 6A Division I State Champions. In the past two years, the Mustangs have laced it up for 32 football games – 12 playoff bouts and two state title showdowns.
That's a lot of football for 15 to 18-year-old kids.
"I think this is a good opportunity for some of these kids to heal up and get their bodies fresh, especially at our place," Kay said. "I was thinking about Dematrius Davis and Shadrach Banks, who came up as freshmen. Those guys have played 46 games in their career in three years. That's a lot of football. A little bit of down time could be a good thing."
As coaches and players adjust to what has become the new norm for the foreseeable future, Kay applauds Galena Park Independent School District for the job they've done to keep the students academically engaged.
The athletic part is not the veteran coaches biggest worry.
"I know there's a lot of fear about working out and kids staying active," Kay said. "To me, that's the absolute least of my worries. We've been through similar situations in the past with hurricanes, like 2005, 2008 or 2017. My experience has been the first time the kids get back it's a little rough, but then they bounce back."
As they've had to social distance from their athletes, Kay said coaches are using texting or the sportsYou App as a main way to communicate with the players.
But it's not the same as seeing them on a daily basis.
"I miss the kids, I miss the action, I miss everything that goes on day-to-day – either positively or negatively – I think a lot of us can use this opportunity to truly appreciate the role that specifically athletics and being a teacher play in our lives," Kay said. "I think everybody is ready to go back to work."
Kay has already started to plan as if there will be no spring football.
With the shift to the fall, North Shore would start practice on August 3 and add an extra scrimmage to the schedule, which would be against Dickinson.
Changing what you have been doing for the past two and a half decades isn't easy, but Kay said everyone is in the same boat and they will have to adjust for at least this season.
"I think we have to be very conscious as coaches, especially ones who have lived and died by spring ball, to make sure we're not pushing them to the point that they are peaked out by Week 8," he said. "I can change the routine, the routine is easy. It's changing the philosophy, which I'm going to have to do for at least this year. I'm looking forward to the challenge and we'll go talk with some people."