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Productive Pods: St. Marys football wasn’t bothered by WVSSAC guidelines

Photo by Jay W. Bennett St. Marys’ Ben Long stiff arms Wirt County’s Garrett Parsons during a 2019 regular-season game. One year after qualifying for the playoffs, Long and company hoped for regular June and July training sessions. Instead, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic left them with an unusal regimen, but they endured anyway.

ST. MARYS — If all had gone as St. Marys head coach Jodi Mote hoped, his Blue Devils would have been preparing throughout the month of June for the annual July grind of the 7-on-7 period. Those workouts have become invaluable annual tools for many high school football teams across the Mountain State, and were as important to the Blue Devils this year as in past seasons.

Once out in the sun he’d watch SMHS quarterback Brennan Boron start getting on the same page with his wide receivers, the offensive linemen receiving a refresher on or learning their blocking schemes, and he’d also see the first steps at returning to the Class A playoffs firmly being tread by the end of the month.

Instead, the 35 kids out for the team along with their coaches saw these plans blown up by the coronavirus pandemic in this most unusual of years.

Because of the nature of the disease and how it is spread, only one option was left to them in terms of an early opportunity to jump into the 2020 season — they had to take what the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission gave them with regard to getting back together.

It wasn’t much.

There could be no balls used, no contact, and no real football action as the WVSSAC mandated all schools followed the nationally recommended six-foot social distancing space in attempts to avoid further transmission of the virus.

This really “took the wind out of” Mote’s sails as his group had hit the weight room and team activities hard before COVID-19 took over the country. Now, the Blue Devils looked at a potential summer of quite possibly just the basics.

But as it turns out, those requirements fit well into Mote’s beliefs as a head coach and teacher.

The 19-year leader of the Blue Devils, who’s coached the Pleasants County school to three state championship games and the 2016 title, preaches balance and preparation in all three phases of the game. In his mind every player needs to understand what the team is trying to achieve, not just the starters. So when the ruling came down that the group could only get together in pods of limited athletes, it wasn’t as “much of a blow.”

Not only his staff but he could focus the returning and incoming kids to a greater degree.

“You may not have a certain kid or group of kids for the season with this COVID situation and the next guy has to know what he is doing. Outside of the injuries we don’t always have depth in our substitutions, so teaching is critical,” said Mote.

But it hasn’t been all Xs and Os. With each player sharing a pod with unknown teammates, the camaraderie among the team is at an all-time high according to Mote.

“There’s always been an enthusiasm around the program, sometimes you don’t necessarily have the expertise as far as grade level or actual talent. But with this group the excitement and work ethic is there. It is just a matter of what you have to work with as far as kids and their development with the time and energy they put into the sport.”

“I really have to give credit to our staff because they are able to get these guys to do what we are doing now. Everyone has been working hard and the kids are happy to see guys because some of them have told me they really missed it. It is important for the emotional well being of everyone to be able to socialize again.”

Getting back together was also important from a strength standpoint. As the weight room wasn’t available until the past few days, chairs assigned to each player were used to perform exercises. Led by defensive coordinator Jay Powell, the five groups crunched, pressed, kicked and lifted while using the chair as leverage or a weight gathered around the SM logo at centerfield of Bill Hanlin Stadium.

So what has it all led too?

Mote says there’s never been a three-week period he has looked forward to more. “I am hoping for a successful 3-week period in the state of West Virginia. That is my hope and my goal. That will be a deciding factor in us hopefully beginning our season.”

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