Football coaches almost always include a caveat when assessing their chances for an upcoming season.

After going over their strengths and weaknesses, they’ll almost always add, “We have to stay healthy.”

Key injuries can ruin the hopes of almost any team, and this year you can add the COVID-19 pandemic to the list.

“Always is, bud,” responded Refugio coach Jason Herring when asked about the importance of avoiding injury and sickness, “but this year there is an added dimension.”

The UIL has ruled schools in Class 4A and smaller may begin workouts Monday. Class 5A and 6A schools are allowed to start Sept. 7, the same day TAPPS schools may begin practices.

With the exception of Victoria East, Victoria West, Victoria St. Joseph, Shiner St. Paul, Hallettsville Sacred Heart and Victoria Faith Academy, every school in the area will be able to practice Monday.

Coaches admit the situation remains fluid, and could change in a day.

Following are five things to watch if the season goes forward as planned.

1. Safety First

Coaches did their best to keep students safe during summer strength and conditioning drills. Their task becomes even more daunting when practices begin. They will continue many of the same precautions, but social distancing is impossible in football. Players are required to wear masks when they’re not on the field. Some coaches have ordered neck gators for their players, and others are looking into plastic shields for linemen.

2, Coaching changes

COVID-19 shut down athletics, but it did nothing to stop the coaching carousel. Eleven schools in the area went through a coaching change, including Hallettsville Sacred Heart, which has yet to fill its vacancy. The new coaches are Bay City’s Robert Jones and Cuero’s Jack Alvarez in Class 4A; Edna’s Jimmie Mitchell, Goliad’s Kevin Salazar and Karnes City’s Daniel Oleschlegel in Class 3A; Schulenburg’s Walt Brock, Falls City’s Mark Kirchhoff, Woodsboro’s Johnny Lesak and Runge’s Stephen Davis in Class 2A, and St. Joseph’s James Duprie in TAPPS Division IV. Kirchhoff previously coached at Falls City, Salazar and Davis were promoted from positions at their current school, and Jones and Salazar are coaching at their alma mater.

3. Schedule madness

Coaches went through the process of scheduling when the UIL announced its realignment and reclassification in February. Many of those schedules were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools are fortunate to be able to play a full schedule, while others may only play seven or eight games. An example is Ganado, which will start the season with five straight games, including its district opener against Weimar on Week 4. The Indians will then play three district games over the next six weeks with open dates for possible illnesses or make-up games.

4. Teams to watch

The UIL state championship games for schools Class 4A and smaller are scheduled for Dec. 16-19. Calhoun begins the season ranked No. 5 and El Campo is ranked No. 9 in Class 4A, Division I. Cuero is ranked No. 20 in Class 4A, Division II. Hallettsville is ranked No. 8, Industrial is ranked No. 17, and Yoakum is ranked No. 20 in Class 3A, Division I. Shiner is ranked No. 1, Refugio is ranked No. 2 (in case you’re wondering and you probably are, the teams would likely meet in the fourth round), Ganado is ranked No. 8 and Weimar is ranked No. 22 in Class 2A, Division I. It’s worth noting that Shiner, Ganado and Weimar are in the same district. Falls City is ranked No. 9 in Class 2A, Division II.

5. Cheering them on

Watching your favorite team play won’t be a given this season. Most stadiums will be limited to a 50-percent capacity and it remains unclear how schools will deal with social distancing in the stands. The UIL knew attendance would be an issue and for this season lifted its ban on broadcasting Friday night games live. Schools may come up with a way to stream games for fans unable to attend.

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Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or by email at mforman@vicad.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeforman21

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Mike Forman is the sports editor of the Victoria Advocate. He has worked at the Advocate since 1982. He has a bachelor's degree from SMU and a master's degree from UCLA.

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