With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the delay of Texas high school football for larger districts, Longview athletic director and head football coach John King says he hopes the smaller schools “do it right” so “we can have a chance at a season.”
King spoke Tuesday to members of the Rotary Club of Longview about how the pandemic has changed this year’s season.
“I didn’t know what a Zoom call was until March,” King said to the group, which held its weekly meeting through the online teleconferencing app. “It has, obviously, been one of the craziest years that we’ve all dealt with.
“When we were able to start back with our athletes in June, we had to come up with a plan for every little thing. It’s taken a lot of planning, a lot of thinking and a lot of re-doing the plan to make it work. It was obvious that our kids were ready to get back going with 350-plus (athletes) from the middle school through the high school reporting each day through the summer. We had to adjust, and everyone has handled it extremely well. We had to attack it, and the only way to do it was to do it right.”
Longview, like all Class 5A and 6A schools, is operating on a delayed start for athletics. Football and volleyball can begin practice Sept. 7 with games set to start Sept. 25. Athletics in Class 4A and smaller began two weeks ago, with volleyball games already underway and the football season set to open Thursday.
“When they delayed the start of the 5A/6A seasons, the rationale behind it was that 65% of the districts in 5A/6A were shut down because of the higher-populated areas,” King said. “We didn’t have to shut down, but a lot of the metro-area schools did. We’re hoping that the 4As and below do it right. We’re counting on those guys so we can have a chance at a season.”
When the season arrives, it will be different in a number of ways. The Lobos, who are dropping to Class 5A, Division I, are finalizing plans for game tickets.
No season tickets will be sold this year, King previously announced, and general admission tickets will be sold to the public after all of the “performing students” — football players, ROTC, Viewettes, band and cheerleaders and their families — have been taken care of. Tickets will be sold at the LHS athletic office and at the gate.
All of the Lobos’ games will be streamed for free online. Each home team is responsible for providing a link to the coverage, King said, and it will be made readily available online.
The season opener for the Lobos, however, will be easy to watch as it was announced that Longview will take on Temple in the season opener Sept. 25 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington as part of a double-header to celebrate 100 years of University Interscholastic League football. It will be televised live on Fox Sports Southwest.
Football-wise, the Lobos have key pieces back on both sides of the ball, led by Kaden Meredith on offense to go with “probably one of the more talented and competitive wide receiver groups that we’ve had in quite some time.” Defensively, Kybo Jackson-Jamerson and Joe Jones return to help lead the way.
“We’ve got a tough non-district schedule that will test us early on, and that’s the point,” King said. “We’ll know a lot about our football team after those first four games.”
That includes Temple, Marshall, Tyler Legacy and a neutral-site showdown and rematch of the 2018 Class 6A, Division II state championship with Beaumont West Brook, which will take place Oct. 15 at Abe Martin Stadium in Lufkin.
Personally, King discussed his role as president-elect of the Texas High School Coaches Association, which he called the greatest honor of his professional career off the field, as well as the new role of empty-nester as both King children, Haynes and Steelie, have left the house to continue their respective athletic careers at the next level.
“Haynes leaving, that was one thing, but Steelie, that was another — a tough one when we took her last week,” King said. “I’m proud of both of them for doing what it takes in their respective sports but also in the classroom to reach where they are right now.”
Through it all, King said that the safety and well-being of the student-athletes has led the charge.
“They are the reason that we as coaches do what we do,” he said. “And in 2020, their safety is and will fully remain our top priority.”