By Nathan Cochrane

We’re in unprecedented times, and all of us are learning daily what the new “norm” is.

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, many of our previous norms aren’t returning. Take the start of Friday night high school football. Here in the South, fall is synonymous with football. Talk about the 2020 football season in Lee County started on Jan. 2, right after the Yellow Jackets’ run to the State 3AA Championship game. Excitement could not have been any higher.

Then Covid-19 hit. The uncertainty of this upcoming school year caused many anxiety. For me, much of that anxiety came from the uncertainty of high school football and sports in general. Throughout the spring and summer, local coaches told me about all the things they were doing with their athletes. Some were in Zoom meetings and some were on the field in a modified practice that barely resembled football at all.

Every coach I spoke to was optimistic that they’d be able to play at some time, but all were concerned about the safety of their athletes and what the games would look like.

Fast forward to Aug. 11. The North Carolina High School Athletic Association held a special meeting via Zoom to discuss and plan the upcoming year. The next day, the NCHSAA released an updated 2020-2021 school year’s athletic schedule, and the first day schools can hold practices will be in November. Every sport will have a shortened season and almost all will have a reduced number of NCHSAA sanctioned contests.

Football, for instance, will only play seven games. The NCHSAA is still planning the playoffs for sports and what that will look like.

“I believe the NCHSAA did a solid job putting a plan in place to give all sports the best opportunity to play this school year,” Lee County High School Football Coach Steve Burdeau told me.

So with sports being cut short in the spring, most people are more than excited to have even some hope of high school sports. But spring football is actually not unheard of for those around the football world. The NCHSAA has allowed a spring practice period in May for many years now. Other states like Georgia allow a 10-practice season spanning 13 days, with the final day being a spring game against an opposing team within the Georgia High School Association.

With sports schedules now released and other states choosing to continue with a regular schedule, this creates interesting dynamics for athletes and parents. One dynamic that football fans have already seen is the transferring of athletes to other states. One such transfer is a high profile quarterback from Pinecrest High School in Moore County. Lucas Hunter, who is one of the state’s top quarterback recruits for the class of 2023, announced he would be transferring to Dillon High School in Dillon, South Carolina to play football in the fall. This is a decision many families are having to face when considering recruitment potential versus staying where they’ve always been.

Another situation that we will have to watch play out is the early graduation and enrollment in college for athletes who have already signed letters of intent with their respective colleges. Many football players graduate early so they can get on their respective campuses and start working out with their collegiate team, participate in spring practice, and any intra-squad games.

The sports world in 2020 and into 2021 looks and feels different. It will be different to start the football season in cold weather and end in warm weather. It will be different to not truly have the “boys of fall.” One thing is certain though, when you are under the lights at Cavalier Stadium eating a steak sandwich or you hear Pat McCracken’s voice over the P.A. at Paul B. Gay Stadium, you’ll feel a small tidbit of normalcy come back to your life. I, for one, cannot wait to have that feeling again.

Nathan Cochrane is a construction consultant in the private sector. Prior to that, he coached high school and middle school football for six years and remains involved in the game as an announcer and booster.