An empty ‘Dog pound… Hampton’s Lunsford talks spring football, possible altered season

Published 2:16 pm Friday, May 8, 2020

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BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
Hampton head football coach Michael Lunsford is like so many other high school football coaches throughout the region who have been forced to sit back and ponder, plan, and strategize on how he will address the upcoming football season based on how the TSSAA plans to go forward.
Not being able to have spring practice is enough in itself to hamper a new football season due to not being able to work with kids who will be expected to step into open roles due to graduation.
“COVID-19 has completely altered all of our planning and preparation for spring football,” Lunsford said. “We had planned on doing spring practice from May 4th through May 15th which included a scrimmage with Sullivan South.
“All of that has been canceled. We were really starting to make some strides in the weight room when all of this started and I hated to see it come. As far as not being able to see the kids it has had a tremendous effect on us as a team we haven’t been able to continue with our normal weight program as well as just missing seeing the guys.
“One of the main reasons for coaching for me is loving helping young people and being around them and when you can’t be around them anymore it puts things in perspective¬†a little bit, you really start missing them as individuals.”
Lunsford realizes that his team just like others will be behind the eight-ball when they can come together but has high confidence that his team can put things behind them and move forward relatively quickly.
“I think it will definitely put us behind, but I think it will put everyone else behind too,” Lunsford added. “I don’t think anyone will gain an advantage unless certain school systems allow more than other school systems.
“For example, we play Gatlinburg Pittman week one and if they are allowed to start working with their kids in June and we aren’t allowed to work with ours until July then yes, we are behind them as far as our preparation.
“We do have a fairly veteran group coming back, especially in the line, so I hope that we can pick things up fairly quickly when the time comes,” continued Lunsford. “It always helps when your quarterback is a returning player as well.”
With the pandemic coming quickly like a blitzing linebacker on a quarterback on his blindside, no coach anywhere could have ever imagined something like this taking place.
But after having endured the COVID-19, coaches going forward might seriously consider having an emergency plan prepared should a second wave of the virus rear its ugly head.
“I’m not really sure any plan that you have can make you prepared for a situation like this,” Lunsford stated. “I think the biggest thing is that your high-character players and your highly determined players who continue to work on their own will be the ones who benefit from doing the things others aren’t willing to do on their own.
“You can put programs and things in place for the kids to do, but it comes down to their willingness to do it without supervision as to how much it benefits them or the team.”
Most coaches are role models for the young men under their tutelage. Lunsford was asked what will be the lesson that he has taken from this shutdown to impress upon his team.
“I think the biggest lesson I can teach my players is to not take things for granted,” commented Lunsford. “Kids don’t always want to be at practice and don’t always want to be in the weight room, and now that they have been stuck in the house for months.
“I think its fair to say that many of them would love to be back doing things like that. I guess it one of those things where you don’t really know what you have until it’s not there anymore.
“Just appreciate having the ability and opportunity that you have.”
With the downtime, Lunsford has spent time talking to other coaches to see their feelings on how the 2020 season could possibly play out.
“I have talked to several different coaches with differing opinions. I have heard about having a season without fans, I have heard shorten the season and shorten the playoffs so that they can get the season over quicker,” Lunsford continued.
“I have heard play only your area teams with the possibility of a couple of bowl games at the end of the year. I really don’t know what to expect for the upcoming year.”
Should the decision be made to start the season later in the year, one of the concerns for smaller schools such as Hampton would be running over into basketball season as many football players transition over to the basketball court.
As far as Hampton goes, Lunsford felt like he and head basketball coach Ned Smith could work through such a situation.
“If football season were to start later I think we would be in a better situation than a lot of other teams because Coach Smith and I work so well together,” Lunsford said. “At Hampton, all the coaches understand that for any of us to be competitive we have to share athletes and work together on things.
“It might affect the basketball team more than it does football because the players that play both sports might not get to basketball season until around Christmas.”
One of the things that many coaches would have to consider about playing a shorter season would be to make sure they are winning the games needed to put them into position to make the playoffs which could be narrowed down quite considerably by a shortened season.
Lunsford was asked if he would change his philosophy about the way he coached the games than what he might normally do doing a complete-season slate.
“I don’t think it would cause us to change philosophy about how we think we can be successful,” said Lunsford. “In football, its really a one-game season each week and you work each week on preparing the best you can for that week so whether that one week at a time for ten weeks or one week at a time for eight weeks it really doesn’t matter.
“Every week we play you try to be the very best you can that week.”
Bernard Childress, the Executive Director for the TSSAA, has already stated that if high school football season couldn’t be played in the state of Tennessee there would be a major economic impact as football is generally the money cow for all high schools throughout the state.
Lunsford was presented the question of how much of  a major impact that not having football would have on the athletic programs for the Bulldogs.
“If we were not able to have football season it would be a major crisis for the other sports teams at Hampton,” Lunsford stated. “Our concessions help fund Boys Basketball, Girls Basketball, and the Band so with no games they lose that money.
“Also over two-thirds of our gate money goes to the general athletic fund to help pay for other expenses in other sports. Whether its high school or college, football is the money maker and without a football season it will directly affect all the other sports in some way.
“It would be difficult for some of our sports programs to survive without a football season.”
Right now, everyone in Bulldog Country is keeping their fingers and paws crossed that football can be played and their ‘Dogs have another shot at gunning for a state bid.

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