The spring and summer of 2020 may be one of the most difficult times to transition to a new career path.
That difficulty is not lost on Drew Marlowe, the former Sumter High School player and assistant coach who took his first head coaching job in December by taking over the program at South Florence. What started as a pretty normal transition from assistant to head coach has now become a complicated offseason that took away his spring practices and has already taken a bite out of summer camp.
There are still a lot of unknowns for summer and the upcoming season, which complicates things even more for Marlowe.
"The not knowing is what's killing me," said Marlowe. "I'm a planner. I like to plan things out, and not being able to plan, not having specific start dates, has been tough."
Luckily, Marlowe started in December, which meant he had the chance to start building relationships with his players, even if they missed out on spring practices.
"I was here for December through, I guess, March when we were out, so I was able to come in and build relationships with the kids a little bit, get their phone numbers and all that kind of stuff," said Marlowe. "I've been in regular contact with my guys. I try to get in touch with at least 10 of them a day and text them, try to keep up with them and their grades. That's our most important thing right now."
While Marlowe has had the chance to get to know his players, the loss of spring practice means he hasn't gotten to fully get to know them on the field.
"I think the biggest thing we're going to lose by missing the spring is our ability to evaluate kids and try to get kids in the right positions. That was kind of my goal for the spring, to try kids at different positions, try to get people in the right position, who was going to be physical, who needed to play offense and defense, that sort of thing. So we really lost out on the evaluation and really taking a look at each kid and making sure they were in the best position. The other thing is that I'm bringing in seven new coaches, so none of those guys are familiar with these kids."
Bringing in seven new coaches was the next big challenge. The process of hiring coaches is always pretty difficult in high school. Unfortunately, it's not just about finding good coaches. You also have to fit those coaches into specific teaching openings. Marlowe was lucky enough to find two coaches, his new offensive and defensive coordinators, who are certified in math. That helped the other pieces fall into place. Unfortunately, the pandemic has kept them from having proper staff meetings, so he's still working on getting his coaches on the same page.
"I've kind of taken the approach that we need to be ready as a coaching staff as soon as possible, so I've already begun meeting with a lot of my coaches and in the coming weeks, we're going to have some staff meetings," said Marlowe. "Hopefully they'll be in person but if not, online. Our coaches need to be prepared for the first day of practice, because with losing spring, we've lost a lot of time and we need to be really efficient with our time."
Every coach wants to establish his playing style early. Marlowe hasn't really had the chance to do that because he hasn't been able to put his team on the field. Once he does, he wants to build his team on a foundation of physicality, which makes sense for the guy who spent the last five years as Sumter's offensive line coach.
"When I interviewed (coaches) I told them the vision that I had for this program," said Marlowe. "Football-wise, I want us to be a very physical football team. I want us to impose our will on our opponents."
When will Marlowe get the chance to finally get his team on the field at South Florence? He still doesn't have a clear answer, but that's not for a lack of trying on his part.
"I have not gotten anything, unfortunately, and it's not for a lack of asking," said Marlowe. "I'm probably driving people around here crazy, but I think everyone in the state is looking to the (South Carolina) high school league, seeing what they're going to do. As soon as we're able to get together, whether it's our whole team or we're bringing in 10 guys at a time or whatever it is, whenever we can get back with our guys we're going to do it."
While there are a lot of unknowns, Marlowe has some plans in place. Because his players have missed so much time, Marlowe has to prioritize his offseason. While he wants his team to be physical, he knows it's more important to get his kids in shape.
"My biggest thing, no matter when we're able to get back, is we're not going to be able to get much stronger between now and our first game. That can't be the focus of what our offseason program is," said the former Sumter assistant. "It has to be to get kids in shape and do as many things as we can to prevent injuries when the season gets here. I don't think that if we're able to get into the weight room July 1, the smart thing to do is to see how much we can squat and lift, it's going to be about getting our kids in shape."
Marlowe stressed that this has been a difficult offseason for coaches across the country, but there's definitely one major setback to being a new coach right now.
"What hurts me a little more than some people is that Day 1 when we're able to go out there and I call a play, nobody is going to know what that means. More established programs are a little further along in implementing their offense and defense, but at the same time it gives me a chance to have a fresh start. Kids are out of any sort of routine they were used to, because I do think there will be very much a new way of doing things when we're able to get going."
On top of coaching, Marlowe still has a lot of things to figure out as he transitions to life at South Florence. For one, he still lives in Sumter. While he closed on a new house in Florence, he's had to make a lot of trips back and forth and still has plenty of off-the-field things to get situated.
"I go to the school maybe three or four times a week, just because I kind of feel guilty if I don't. I feel like I need to be working on something," said Marlowe. "I come up here, cut the grass, continue to work on my depth chart, sometimes I bring coaches in individually to try to get them up to speed on our scheme."
While this has been a difficult offseason, Marlowe thinks the 11 years he spent as an assistant at Sumter has helped prepare him for his most trying spring as a coach.
"I'm thankful for the years that I was able to spend working at Sumter. I got to work under some really, really good coaches who prepared me," said Marlowe. "The things that I've learned from the coaches at Sumter and being young here will hopefully help expedite this process for us getting ready for our first game."
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