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Football: Local squads return to the field

Programs across the state kicked off their first official practice

Fairview QB Liam O’Brien rolls out for a pass at the first official practice of the fall football season Thursday Sept 24 (By BoCoPreps/Brent W. New)

Cleats on the grass, slant routes breaking open — the speaker thumped up to 11.

Could it be?

High school football returned to action across Colorado Thursday, marking the first official day of practice for the 200-plus programs that opted back into the fall season.

Suddenly, that tiptoe grab along the sideline, those cracks delivered on the sled — images that could only play out in the minds of eager players as the state officials juggled the sport’s fate publicly for weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, finally felt real.

“Everyone is just super excited, they just want to play,” Fairview coach Tom McCartney said through a black cloth mask. “The word is perception when you look around the country and people are playing — they’re on ESPN, things are happening. And (our players) were like ‘Why can’t we play?’ And now that we can, everybody is just excited, flying around and having fun.”

Thursday’s practice at Fairview High School didn’t look much different from years’ past despite the new coronavirus-related restrictions.

Following state guidelines, the Knights were broken into smaller groups and spread across the campus for Day 1 drills. (But that’s something McCartney said they’d do anyway.)

The other changes were in the nuances. Things like masks worn by players and coaches; little absentees like the water cooler, as players were instructed to bring their own; and all those fist bumps that were substituted for air bumps.

“We’re playing football, so we’re just glad to be out here,” Knights starting quarterback Liam O’Brien said. “The mask, it’s a price we have to pay to play this fall. Everyone on this field is definitely willing pay that price. Honestly, it’s not that bad.”

Nine days ago, high school football wasn’t happening until at least 2021. A day later, it was revived in a late-night CHSAA boardroom.

The timeline had been rather dizzying.

CHSAA’s initial release of the sports calendar Aug. 4 pushed all high school football to the spring.  The issue arose back to the forefront earlier this month but was shot down again — this time by a unanimous vote by the CHSAA board on Sept. 8.

Everything flipped from there. New variances led to new thought. The opening led to surveys and another vote. And on Sept. 16, programs were given the choice to play in either the fall or spring.

“I got a phone call from my dad and he was like ‘We’re back on’,’” said Fairview defensive end Brayden Wood, who, not long ago, expected to miss his senior season due to conflicts with the spring season and his commitment to Kansas State. “I just had the biggest smile on my face. I was just so excited to get back out here with all my brothers.”

Fall teams will play a six-game regular season starting Oct. 8. Those that don’t qualify for the postseason are allowed another game on the backend of their schedule.

The Knights will start at Poudre in two weeks.