All summer, high school football coaches and players across Massachusetts sought clarity for the fall season. Their answer came Wednesday — if games are to be played, it will take place in 2021, during the late winter and early spring.
The MIAA’s Board of Directors approved a recommendation from the COVID-19 Task Force to implement a four-season model for the upcoming athletic calendar, in which football and other fall sports that can’t be played in communities with high coronavirus infection rates are postponed to a “floating season” that will take place from Feb. 22 to April 25.
So, what will football players do this fall?
Ayden Pereira, a rising junior at Lawrence’s Central Catholic, along with Reading sophomore James Murphy are two of the most promising young quarterbacks in the state. Both have been training this summer with former Bridgewater State star Michael McCarthy at M2 QB Academy in Newton.
Murphy, the son of former Northeastern quarterback Jim Murphy, has also been working out with his teammates several times a week, and may soon be able to work with his coaches after the Board of Directors sanctioned out-of-season contact between players and coaches starting Sept. 18.
“Coming into last year, I didn’t know the playbook at all as a freshman,” said Murphy, who led Reading to the D2 North semifinals last season.
“Now we can really take a deep dive this fall into perfectly executing everything. It will help us so much when we do get to play.”
Like Murphy, Pereira said he has not seriously considered transferring to another school in the hopes of playing football this fall. He lives in Auburn, N.H.; New Hampshire is tentatively allowing football programs to play a shortened scheduled this fall, but Pereira is committed to competing for Central Catholic, whenever that might be possible.
“There’s probably the same chance of [New Hampshire schools] playing in the fall as us playing in the spring,” said Pereira. “I could transfer to a New Hampshire school and they could cancel football and then I’m stuck there. It’s not worth the risk to me.”
“Obviously we’d like to play in the fall, but if we can get six to eight games in this spring we can’t really complain. At the end of the day, we just want to play. Whenever that is, and however long it is, that’s what we want.”
Several leagues and regions have entered informal discussions to hold intramural 7-on-7 games this fall, but the details will have to be ironed out so that those competitions comply with guidelines from the state’s Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA).
For football coaches in the Boston City League, such as Brighton coach Randolph Abraham, creating some sort of competitive environment for his players this fall is essential.
“We lose about three kids every year to private schools and other programs,” said Abraham.
“The 7-on-7 competition is needed to keep our students engaged. If they’re not with us, they’ll be with someone else, and we don’t want programs to recruit out of our city schools.”
Abraham said that his players don’t usually practice during the offseason. But this summer, 30 of his student-athletes have been working out at Daly Field with masks and social distancing measures under the tutelage of Brighton alumni such as Framingham State wide receiver William Jean.
Boston English/New Mission coach Ryan Conway asserts that football has been a critical motivating factor for his players to perform academically, and that the lack of structure from organized sports has left many of those student-athletes adrift.
That is part of the reason Milton coach Steve Dembowski, the coaches representative on the MIAA’s Football Committee, has been lobbying the state association to allow for out-of-season contact and modified practices this fall.
Yet not all programs are compelling their football players to commit to their craft this fall. Bishop Fenwick coach Dave Woods, who led his team to a Division 6 Super Bowl last winter, said he will be encouraging his players to take up other fall sports.
“There is so much that goes into the football season, that to practice a couple times a week, or play 7-on-7, I’m not sure that would be the best situation for us,” said Woods. “Other schools and districts might look at it differently, but as a small school, I’d encourage our kids to have a full season and hopefully we’ll have our season in the spring.”
The Board of Directors approved a Sept. 18 start date for all other fall sports, with sport committees working on modifications to meet EEA guidelines. Since student-athletes will be allowed to compete in all four seasons if possible, football players could play soccer, golf, or run cross country this fall without jeopardizing their eligibility.