Thomas Sumter football excited to begin practicing


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The coronavirus pandemic made summer workouts an adventure for football teams all across the country. Now it's time to see how it will effect practices, as South Carolina Independent School Association football teams were able to put on helmets and hit the field for the first time on Monday.

Thomas Sumter Academy got out on the field early on Monday to try and beat the projected rainfall from Hurricane Isaias. It didn't have a perfect practice by any means, but TSA was glad to hit the field.

"I told them after practice that this will be the worst practice we ever have here," said new head coach Brannon Tidwell on his team getting used to how he runs practices. "The effort was fine and a lot of it was new to them and understanding where to go and things like that.

"Tomorrow will be better than today, but we're just excited to be able to get out there and practice and get back to some sort of normalcy, I guess."

Normal is still not exactly the ideal word to describe football practice, but the Generals and the rest of SCISA are starting to inch closer to that. Schools are allowed to have offenses and defenses on the field together now, so they can actually run through plays, though there are no pads yet. Outside, the Generals have a small enough squad to work together easily, though they have to break into two groups when they head inside to use the weight room.

"Now we can get out there and actually practice," said Tidwell. "Outside there's not as many restrictions, but once you get inside there's still some in the weight room and things like that. We have to cut our group in half when we got done today, because we've got some of our younger kids out there, so we cut them in half for the weight room area, but outside we're all spread out. The practice was somewhat normal.

"In the weight room there's still all the sanitizing and all that. We're basically walking around in what looks like a Ghostbusters movie with a backpack of sanitizing spray as we're going through the weight room."

It wasn't entirely smooth sailing. Thomas Sumter was without two players on Monday as each came in contact with people who tested positive for COVID-19. Those players are staying home until they get test results for safety's sake.

"Everybody is going to be battling that as we go through, but we keep telling them to keep their circle small and try to hang out with family so we can try to get through this thing and be smart with what we're doing," said Tidwell. "If someone around them tests positive, we don't even think about (those players coming to practice) until they get a test and they get their results back."

While practice may not have been perfect, it was a big upgrade from summer workouts. The biggest benefit was being able to run through plays with an offense and a defense on the field, so players can see firsthand a lot of things they've mostly just seen on film so far.

"We had an offense and a defense, and we had scout cards on the other side and ran through some plays," said Tidwell. "It was just nice to see them get out there and actually get to line up and get to do something besides a small group in the weight room or just me up on the board drawing up some plays."

The Generals were also able to integrate a little bit of contact with hand shields. While they're a while away from pads and full contact, it was refreshing to be able to add that into the mix.

"We had some hand shields out there today, so we got to work on some double teams," said Tidwell. "Its just good to see the kids put on a helmet and a jersey and get lined up and have fun and run around a little bit. It's different for them."

Tidwell said these practices are even more important for small SCISA schools, because they need to be able to get on the field and teach players how to be flexible. The Generals don't have the luxury of a ton of depth, so Tidwell needs to know his players can fill in wherever they're needed on the field and that comes through a lot of repetitions.

"I've coached at all different levels and at the bigger schools, you literally have five inside linebackers and if one gets hurt, the next one goes," said Tidwell. "At our level, if a D(efensive) tackle goes down, your Mike (linebacker) goes to D tackle and your safety goes to linebacker and your corner(back) goes to safety and you get the other guy off the bench and he goes to corner.

"It's always been like that in SCISA, but you're going to have to really coach hard and really teach everyone, and you won't be in a bind if there's two kids out in a week, because you can put someone else in there and they know what to do. It was good and we moved guys around today and they feel pretty comfortable with all the different things that we're putting on them."

After a learning day on Monday, Tidwell is excited to see where things go.

"This morning we had to hand out helmets and jerseys and started a little bit later. We had to teach the younger kids who haven't been with us how to stretch," said Tidwell. "The pace, I didn't like; I wanted to be faster and there's always a couple of kids that you find out are better at a different position, so just things like that.

"I think tomorrow will be a lot better with them understanding our expectations. You'll see a faster team on the football field tomorrow."