The Desert Ridge Jaguars have entered a transitional period as COVID-19 continues to impact the 2020 football season.
Following its loss to Higley on Oct. 16, Desert Ridge was shut down due to three coaches and several players testing positive for COVID-19.
Heading into Week 4, the Jaguars were scheduled to play back-to-back road games at Red Mountain, a rematch against the team that knocked out the Jaguars in the 6A conference quarterfinals last season, and Basha. However, the shutdown forced Desert Ridge to cancel the Oct. 23 and Oct. 30 matchups in what has already been a bizarre season.
“We’re definitely in the first of its kind,” head coach Jeremy Hathcock said. “We met with the boys this morning, and their morale was not as high as you would like. They wanna get back at it. I think when we get pads on and get going again they’ll be dialed in, but right now they’re just trying to process it all.”
The Jaguars must now suddenly readjust in the middle of their season. Hathcock is using it as a learning experience, and he understands that there is still a lot that he and his team can do to prevent further exposure.
“There’s so many dynamics that play into this,” Hathcock said. “If a kid sits next to somebody who has COVID in a classroom, they’re out for two weeks. We’ve lost a few football players like that. Had I known this moving forward, we would’ve done alternative school with our kids, at least until football is out. Nobody knew that was an option until now, so we’re all learning by the day.”
During the program’s shutdown, team members have reverted to conducting workouts and meetings from their own homes.
“We’re just doing workouts by ourselves at the moment,” quarterback Austin Kolb said. “We’re just staying in shape and doing virtual learning like we did during the summer.”
Anxious to get back onto the football field, Desert Ridge players have become increasingly frustrated, but they understand that they still have the help of one another to get through the brief layoff.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Kolb said. “We all have group chats, so we contact each other every day. We just make sure everyone is doing well, and we just keep in contact.”
For seniors, there are concerns that their college recruiting will take a hit due to the amount of game film lost from the cancelled games, but Kolb has maintained a positive outlook. He views the layoff as an impromptu bye week and hopes that it can mark the turning point for the 1-2 Jaguars.
“Looking on the bright side, you have more time to rest and get better and get ready for next week,” Kolb said. “We can watch more film. We have more time on our hands, so we’ll be able to use it wisely to get better and learn from our mistakes in the past and just get better overall as a team.”
After self-quarantining, members of the team that did not test positive were cleared to return to practice starting Oct. 28, and the program has made sure to take the necessary precautions to continue its season.
The team has planned a system where seniors will be allowed into the locker room for seven minutes to change before clearing out and allowing the juniors to do the same, per Hathcock. Furthermore, coaches started asking players to possibly switch to hybrid learning in order to limit exposure and give the seniors a better chance to finish their final year.
While the rest of the team has been cleared to return, Hathcock has decided to wait until Tuesday to allow his coaching staff back in person. This will prove to be a challenge for the Jaguars as they attempt to complete the rest of the season.
“It’s kind of tough,” Hathcock said. “It’ll be me and three guys running the show. We’re trying to figure out how do we get good at fundamentals and the little things but at the same time get our overall scheme and game plan in because it’s that time where fundamentals should be already in the bag.”
Desert Ridge is still in the process of figuring out how to hold special events such as senior night and homecoming during the pandemic-riddled season, but Hathcock wants parents to feel comfortable as the program attempts to give players the full high school football experience in the safest manner possible.
“We’re trying to put everything in because we found out that when we tell kids this thing can be over any minute, we’re actually being really serious,” Hathcock said.
The Jaguars look to get their season back on track against Williams Field on Friday, hoping that the shutdown was a simple bump in the road rather than a sign of things to come.
“That puts into perspective a little bit how lucky we are to play the games that we are,” defensive coordinator Travis Jackson said. “Hopefully, we can get through the last three games of the season.”
Ian Garcia is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University covering Desert Ridge High School.