New Durant High School football coach Todd Vargas had envisioned being in the midst of spring football practice this week while incorporating his unique offensive system for 2020.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic completely canceling spring practice, Vargas has been extremely limited on what he and his staff have been able to do, and plenty of questions still remain as to when they will get to start.
“It’s been different, to say the least,” he stated. “Especially coming in brand new, those first days of spring practice and team camp are pretty important. We’re hoping to get our kids where we want them, not only X’s and O’s-wise, but also culture-wise. We are in the same boat with everybody else though.
“The first year definitely has its challenges. If we were in this system two or three years, I don’t think it would affect us near as much just because the offense and defense we are going to run is all about getting reps. Not being able to do that in practice this spring obviously puts us behind, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”
While its obviously difficult to teach the nuisances of the flexbone offense to high school players without a hands-on approach, Vargas has been spending a lot of time in virtual meetings with his coaching staff to iron things out completely.
They are also communicating with players from eighth grade up on a regular basis for weekly workouts to try and make sure those Lions are in shape as well as possible for when they can get back on the field.
“Right now we are really focusing on our coaches and learning exactly what we are doing,” added Vargas. “We have Zoom meetings with our coaches at least once or twice a week and right now have just started into teaching our coaches the new offense. The Zoom deal is not ideal, but the best we have right now. It has forced us to be more creative with the kids.
“We have a social-distancing plan, and our players are all broken up with one of our coaches that is responsible for communicating with them. They are in a Google Classroom as well as a GroupMe app. We have a video leadership lesson each week, we do a workout of the week that our coaches supply, and the kids receive all that in communication with their specific coach.
“We are trying to maintain established relationships with the kids, but that’s about all we can do right now. There’s not a real great way to keep accountability. You’re just hoping and encouraging them to do their workouts to get themselves ready. The ones that are really taking advantage will be that much closer to where we want to be when the time comes.”
Vargas stressed that the ongoing climate has been just as tough on many of those youngsters as a lot of adults. He most misses the daily camaraderie among his players during all the distancing over the past couple of months.
“I’m so much about relationships that it is tough to not get to see the kids every day,” he commented. “That’s really been a struggle. These kids are going through an awful lot. This has all been stressful. They are used to a structured system and all that has been taken away. I’m sure some are fine, but some are having difficulty. A few of the ones I have talked to said, ‘I would do anything to get to spend seven hours in class again’. It’s been difficult and challenging for them, just like adults that may be out of work. We are doing the best we can to communicate with them weekly.
“Fortunately some of the kids are blessed to have different tools where they can work out daily, like maybe a weight bench at their house. For now, they are just doing the workouts we send out that focus on speed and agility. They need some normalcy and need it in a quick way.”
As far as a timetable for returning to normalcy - or at least close to it - the Durant head coach has heard plenty of ideas, but is playing the waiting game just like everyone else.
He hopes for the return of regular workouts by June 1 in order to have plenty of time to get his troops where they need to be, but knows that is all just wishful thinking at this juncture.
“I think if we could (get) our kids June 1 and start our summer pride program, we would have enough time, but that may not happen,” Vargas said. “It may be June 15, or it may be July 1. We just don’t know at this point. The OSSAA is hoping by June 1, and if we can get them by then, I think we will have time to get them up to speed.
“We also don’t know if the association is going to allow practices in the summer to make up for those practices we lost or if it will be like in the past. If it’s July, you would hope the OSSAA would ease restrictions some and give us some of those missed practices back. We’ve always had a tune-up camp where I’ve been in the past and hopefully we’ll be able to do that this summer as well. Right now, though, it’s all speculation and hope.
“The other hurdle we are facing is the unknown of knowing the exact number of players that might be wanting to play, because we never had a chance to really talk to kids before the postponement. Also, finding a quarterback has been a challenge in this first year, especially with no chance to practice in the spring. The good thing is that we have a core group of coaches that know the kids and their skill sets. We’ve gone through some of that as a staff and will do more to figure out who might can do what.”
Vargas continues to maintain a positive attitude even during the trying times and expects the same from his new group of Lions even though preparation for the 2020 campaign will not be the norm.
“We are going to control what we can control and not worry about what we can’t control,” he said. “I know a lot of guys that are dealing with the same frustrations and same struggles. Coaching football is a calling for me, and when I can’t do it the way I have in the past, it is really tough for me.
“My belief is to be positive, and the future is going to be positive.”