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New St. Ed’s football coach facing unique challenge

For St. Ed’s football team to play all, or even part, of the 2020 season, the sheer volume of variables that must fall into place strains credulity.

New head coach Mark Gowin was tasked with a tough act to follow since the departure of Bill Motta, but there seemed to be little doubt that he was up to the challenge. After all, his resume included 34 years of head coaching experience at two high schools in the Washington, D.C. area.

Nothing in that background, however, could have possibly acclimated him to the fallout from the pandemic. The first shoe to drop was the cancellation of spring practice and the May 15 spring game, wiping away a great opportunity for coach and players to get acquainted the old-fashioned way – in person, between the white lines.

“This has been an interesting sequence for sure,” Gowin said. “I’ve never coached a program that had actual spring football. I was looking forward to that this year because I would have been able to introduce my system and learn about the players.

“Instead we had a lot of Zoom meetings with the players during that three-week period. We were able to install my offense, defense and some other basic stuff. Even though we weren’t working on things on the field, that was a plus, and I was happy that we were able do that.

“We have roughly 24-25 kids right now. I think they ended up with that number last year. I was hoping to get around the student body this spring and maybe encourage more kids to join the program.”

Unable to do that, the new coach looked forward to the summer. Several milestone dates popped up in July as barometers to measure a possible return to normalcy.

“By July 1 a decision will be made about reopening the campus,” Gowin said. “We would like to get them in to use the weight room and things like that, but of course we will go with all of the CDC guidelines to determine acceptable capacity in the weight room, spacing, taking temperatures and so forth.

“If we can do that, great. We are not allowed to do a whole lot by rule anyway. We are not out there running plays, teaching specific football drills, or anything like that. It’s more about conditioning. We will also send the kids some playbook-type materials to look at and study.

“Some kids are working, some are traveling, so it will be a little guesswork as to how many show up in the weight room. We always have off-campus summer workout programs for running, if kids can get to a park or field, and for weight training, whether they have access to weights or not.

“We are trying to be as flexible as we can be in this trying time.”

July 27 is the official start date for preseason training camp. Given a murky outlook at this point, Gowin realizes that major decisions are beyond his control. All he can do is try his best to have the team prepared for the start of the season three weeks later.

About that, Gowin told us, “I got an email from the president of the league (SSAC) – and he and other coaches and medical personnel seem to be very optimistic that we are going to start on time, and not have any problems. But with the (COVID-19) numbers ticking up the way they are in Florida and other places, who knows what is going to happen. I don’t know if we are reading the same things. I’m a little more cautious looking at what I see.

“But we are going to prepare and be ready to go as if we are starting on July 27. I talked to our trainer, athletic director and others in our administration, and I’m comfortable with the direction they want us to move in. We are all in the same boat, playing it by ear and waiting to see what happens.

“I don’t have a crystal ball. We are just going to go with what the experts tell us to do. And there’s another issue that presents an interesting situation. Even if it opens up, will parents feel comfortable sending their kids to participate under these circumstances? We will all cross that bridge when we come to it.

“My gut feeling is that we want to make sure we are doing it safely. I want good guidance from medical people and have the decision-makers looking at the statistics, and understanding what is going on out there.”

We will find out soon enough how all of this unfolds. Eleven games are scheduled starting with the opener Aug. 14 and extending through the SSAC playoffs Oct. 30. Will any actually be played? Will we see fans in the stands?

Crystal ball, anyone?

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