Longview head coach John King was on the practice field when the good news came: There was going to be a 2020 football season.
It was long understood that this season was never going to look the same and that there was no script or map what is coming. But an athletic season was coming, the University Interscholastic League announced this past week, and that was good news.
“I think everyone was excited that we were given some dates and assurances that there was going to be a season,” King said. “It went from excitement to stress pretty quick, maybe a few minutes after it was released.
“I was out on the practice field and couldn’t pull up the release on my phone, which immediately started ringing. It’s like they say, if you want it to rain, wash your car. For me, if you want the UIL to release something, go to practice field.”
The start of the season for the Lobos as well as the rest of Class 5A and 6A was delayed nearly five weeks until Sept. 7. Class 4A and below will begin as originally scheduled on Aug. 3.
That news got the phones buzzing with inquiries on every little detail involved when pressing on during a pandemic. Season schedules, ticket sales, stadium capacity, practice plans, transportation — the list goes on and is an ongoing project.
“The biggest thing initially was making sure we had all the games that we had schedule to make sure all of the coaches in our district were on board to continue with the schedule that we had in place,” King said. “We checked with everyone and started feeling better about the schedule then we dove into the COVID mitigation guidelines and what they meant for us.
“Come to find out, a lot of what they asked us to do, we were already doing and then some. That was confirmation that we had handled summer workouts in the right way.”
Schedule-wise, Longview will start practice on Sept. 7 and follow with a scrimmage at home against Texas High on Sept. 17.
Longview, as originally scheduled, will open the season on Sept. 24 against Temple, a game originally scheduled as a doubleheader at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to kick off a celebration of 100 years of UIL football.
“We’re playing Temple for us and the site is to be determined,” King said. “There’s work to be done there based on the availability of AT&T Stadium.”
The Lobos will visit Marshall on Oct. 2 and host Tyler Lee for homecoming and Green Out on Oct. 9.
A week four date with West Monroe, Louisiana is still up the air and could leave the Lobos with a nine-game regular season.
“Being an out of state opponent adds to it and they do not have their schedule yet,” King said. “My agreement with West Monroe is that we would not fill that game in hopes that we could play one another. We’ll see and that may change.
“We worked together to get those games set up, agreed to play and I’m going to honor that agreement.”
The Lobos then head into District 7-5A, DI action at home against West Mesquite (Oct. 23), at Wylie East (Oct. 30) before returning home against Highland Park on Nov. 6. An open date (Nov. 20) follows a trip to Sherman (Oct. 13).
Longview will host McKinney North at 2 p.m., Nov. 27 at Lobo Stadium before December football closes out the regular season in a Dec. 4 date at John Tyler.
Now what attendance looks like at those games is to be determined as well. The UIL recommended a 50% capacity limit, matching many local and state guidelines.
For season tickets, in which King says Longview ISD sells more than 500 over what the capacity limit could be, they won’t be picking and choosing about who gets a season ticket.
“In talks with administration, we agreed that since we could not offer season ticket renewals to all of our season ticket holders due to the capacity rule, that we would sell general admission this year like we’ve done for our playoff games, first come, first serve,” King said. “There’s not much else we could do. We’re not picking and choosing. We’re working with everyone involved to see how many seats we can sell on the home side, the visitor side and the hill.”
All current season ticket holders will be able to renew their same seat for the 2021 season.
King said, per UIL guidance, that social distancing measurements will be in place as well as a face covering requirement. Also, all ticket sales at the athletic office and the gate will be credit card only, which will apply to Lobo Stadium, Lobo Coliseum and all middle school athletic facilities as well.
Now, with a start date on the calendar, adjustments to the rest of the summer and the first two weeks of school were made as well. The Lobos will take the week off before resuming voluntary summer workouts.
“I had to sit down and look at the calendar and where we’re at,” King said. “We’ll take the week off. We’ll be back Aug. 3 and that’ll give us two weeks before school starts.
“We’re not even to August and the state championships aren’t until January. That’s a long time. You can burn kids and coaches out with five months of football. It doesn’t matter how much you love football, that’s a long time.”
On the field, King said he’s pleased with the conditioning of the team as well as the retention level. Competition for spots and backup roles continues all over the field, on the offensive line, wide receivers and quarterback, namely.
“After missing 13 weeks, it didn’t take long for our kids to pick it back up,” King said. “It’s been a slow build and I’m pleased with where we are in a lot of area. Still plenty of work to be done but we’re on the right track.”
But in a year that’s been off the rails, the Lobos are prepared to continue to adjust as necessary all while pressing forward.
“It’s 2020 continued but we’ve got a plan,” King said. “It marches on and it’s going to take every single person involved. There are so many moving parts and so many people working to make this as safe as possible.
“The model we had this summer has worked great for us and we’re going to continue to do that. Work hard, stay safe and press on.”