COVINGTON, Ga. — Varsity athletics are beginning to creep back in Newton County at last.
Eastside High School’s football team became the first local squad to officially return to action this week when it held its first team workouts since COVID-19 brought the GHSA to a halt earlier this spring.
On May 21, Georgia High School Association officials announced that schools would be permitted to begin summer conditioning June 8, so long as they adhere to a set of strict guidelines. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, the Eagles took to their on-campus facilities for conditioning drills.
“I’m proud of our guys. They’ve handled adversity well,” Eastside head coach Troy Hoff said. “They showed up [Wednesday] ready to go to work, and I think ahead of where we thought they’d be as a whole. Our core group of guys did a really good job.”
Hoff split his team into groups and scattered their conditioning times throughout the day, per GHSA guidelines. Upon arrival, players went through an intricate check-in and screening process. From there, they entered a flex period and warmed up before hitting the track for conditioning.
While some hiccups were expected, Hoff lauded his team for getting through the first two days of conditioning seamlessly.
“The process went really, really good. From check-in to guys being compliant,” he said. “Our parents and families did a fantastic job of getting the student-athletes here and picking them up to go along with our buffer time in between.”
The Eagles had not yet been able to meet together in person, but they’ve maintained cohesiveness this summer through weekly team meetings on Zoom. Hoff and his staff made an effort to keep players involved through team-building activities, as well as special guest appearances.
Among those who’ve made cameos on the Eagles’ team calls have been former Eastside standouts Eric Stokes, who now plays for the University of Georgia, and Sheldon Rankins, a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Each of the two shared the unique experiences he’s gone through facing unusual circumstances due to COVID-19, but ultimately offered similar advice.
“They said, ‘The real ones are going to show themselves. When we get back together, everybody’s gonna know who’s been living up to that standard.’ So, that was pretty powerful for our guys,” Hoff said.
Eastside was given the day off Friday in an effort to ease back into the routine. The players will return next week and will begin conditioning four days — Monday through Thursday — with an optional fifth day on a weekly basis.
“The thing that people outside of our circle don’t always understand is that just having them back together as a team is huge,” Hoff said. “I know they’re not all here at the same time, but we’ve had real positive dialogue with all of them.”
Alcovy High School and Newton High School are slated to open up football workouts on Monday, June 15. Like Eastside, both teams will be using their on-campus practice facilities to host workouts in groups throughout the morning.