The football season will get underway Monday, the first day of school.
“There’s an acclimation period. Three days in helmets and two days in shoulder pads and shells,” said Jude Swearingen, head football coach at Fernandina Beach High School. “That’s what’s weird about the whole situation. Normally, we have three weeks of acclimation and two weeks of practice, and then you have your preseason game before week one.”
The Board of Directors of the Florida High School Athletics Association met Friday and voted to kick off the season on all fall sports next week.
“The way they set this up, the way they pushed it back, and now they keep rushing things,” Swearingen said. “We’re going to start on the 24th and play on the fourth, because we don’t want to miss that Yulee game.”
The FBHS Pirates, who missed out on a spring season because of the pandemic, will open the 2020 season Sept. 4 at Yulee. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
“The preseason game was supposed to be last Friday,” Swearingen said. “And, week one was supposed to be this Friday against Keystone. And, week two would be Yulee on the 28th. They pushed everything back one week. We’re now playing our week one game on what was originally week three.”
The Pirates may have a shortened season.
“There is a possibility they’re going to put a date in there so people who are going to make the game up but I haven’t heard the final answer on that yet,” Swearingen said.
He said the athletic directors in Nassau County were meeting this week to discuss sporting events.
“They’re meeting to kind of hash out protocols and what their expectations are for travel, spectators in the stand, personnel at the game, what’s going to be required on the sideline, before and after the game,” Swearingen said. “So, we should know more by the end of the week what our county is going to let us know how we’re going to move forward.
“We don’t know how it’s going to hash out when it starts. It looks like we’re able to move forward, but who knows what will happen. We could have an outbreak or have someone test positive. I just don’t know where it’ll go.”
Homecoming will be moved to winter.
“They’re going to try to do homecoming more towards basketball, maybe in January or February,” Swearingen said. “I’m thinking of pushing our senior night up to the first home game. That way if something happens, and they don’t let us continue, we’ll honor the seniors before it gets shut down.”
Despite the absence of a spring season, summer workouts were a go for the Pirates.
“We started early in the summer with workouts,” Swearingen said. “We had a kid test positive around the Fourth of July weekend while we were on break. He went through his quarantine and was cleared. We’re just trying to follow the protocols.”
And that has been a challenge for the coaching staff and players.
“We’re in the middle of a field in 100-degree weather, having to wear masks and trying to practice,” Swearingen said. “But, it is what it is. We try to stay safe. But I also feel like, with sports, we have to be realistic. The No. 1 thing you worry about with football is hurting a kid, especially in Florida. And, they’re having to wear a mask around their neck and pull the mask up around their mouth on the sideline. Some of the things to me are unrealistic.
“I want to move forward as much as anybody, but I also think if we have to move forward with some of these restrictions they’re trying to put on us are unreasonable.
“I worry about hurting a kid, I worry about injuring a kid. To me, if it’s such a problem and we should be wearing all those things, we probably shouldn’t be in school and we probably shouldn’t be playing football. We shouldn’t be doing sports. At this point, if it’s not that bad and we don’t need all that, then we should be letting up on some of those restrictions.
“It’s so political and so tied to politics. It’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the kids. Make a decision, and let’s go with it. Half wanting to go, and half not wanting to go. It’s not fair to the kids, it’s not fair to the teachers, it’s not fair to the administrators. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs our country is in right now.”
Swearingen is pleased with the progress his team’s made since the summer.
“We’ve got a really good team,” he said. “We’re starting to grow up. The last two years, I felt we were more of a younger team, working our way up. This year, we’re where I expected us to be.
“When I took this job two years ago, I king of had this vision of where this group would be. We’ve lucked up and had a few kids transfer in who are going to help us with depth and practice more efficiently. I feel like we’re going to be in a good spot.”
The Pirates return quarterback Cam Miller, who is entering his junior season with two years of varsity experience.
“He’s an athlete, and he got his first Division I offer back in April to Virginia Tech,” Swearingen said. “About three weeks ago, he got an offer from Rutgers. Last weekend, Georgia Tech jumped in with an offer, and Central Florida has made an offer.
“The offers are starting to come in, so even without spring film, which would have really been a benefit for a lot of my guys to get looked at.”
Linebacker Josiah Rauls also received an offer from Virginia Tech in April.
Newcomer Chris Turner is a sophomore quarterback who transferred from Yulee.
“He’s been with us since after Christmas with our offseason program,” Swearingen said. “He’s got a nice arm. He’s a different style of quarterback than Cam. He puts us more in the mode of where we were going when we had Jackson Mock at quarterback, prior to his injury and Cam kind of taking over.
“He’s got some work to do. He does a good job on the field, and he works hard. He just needs to build size and strength in the weight room.”
The 4A Pirates went 5-5 in their 2019 campaign.
“We were right in there up until the end of it,” Swearingen said. “There was a chance for us to make it to the playoffs even at the end of the season. It was all about the rankings. They went with Bradford, which we actually had a better record than, but they had played a much tougher schedule. A lot of it has to do with strength of schedule.
“Yulee’s always a challenge. Because of their size, they still overwhelm us with numbers even though our numbers are a lot better than they have been. They’re able to practice offense and defense and do a little bit of crossover. With us, everybody has to play an offensive position and a defensive position, which limits our practice reps. You can get more done with more kids.”
The Pirates, nearly 60 strong this season, have 17 seniors on the roster. Their season kicks off Sept. 4 at Yulee. FBHS travels to Interlachen Sept. 11 and hosts Wolfson Sept. 18.