This is going to be a continuing series on this site until a majority of California high school football teams are practicing and getting ready for their first games. Last week’s announcement by the CIF and its 10 sections that the 2020 fall season is going to become the 2021 winter season gives many people hope to see the other side of the Coronavirus pandemic, but it’s no guarantee that’s even going to happen if the pandemic itself doesn’t get more under control. We have updates in this post about a fall season still possibly happening for parts of the CIF Northern Section, a look at top players who’ve already declared they’re going to skip their senior seasons, more school district reopening plans and more updates from across the state.
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We begin with a section-by-section look at reaction and updates to the release last week of the CIF 2020-21 state calendar, which shows a fall season being played from January to March (including football) and a spring season being played from March to late June (including boys & girls hoops, baseball and softball). It does give any sections the option of restarting fall sports in the fall, but that realistically only applies to certain schools in the CIF Northern Section.
San Diego Section – The section is in the process of putting together advisory committees within each sport (including coaches, athletic directors and superintendents) to develop its own calendar by August 14, 2020. The goal, according to a statement on the section’s web site, is “developing a plan that will best meet the needs of our section.”
Southern Section – CIFSS commissioner Rob Wigod spent much of the week following last Monday’s announcement doing another series of media interviews. Part of what he told the OC Sports Zone website: “Certainly, there were a lot of people who were speculating what was going to happen and some of those speculations were involving the cancellation of sports or severe reductions in the regular seasons or….. potentially only league champions were going to be allowed to advance to playoffs so I think there were some people in looking forward to what they thought might happen, there was some excitement and maybe some relief that some of the worst case scenarios they had in mind were not what we ended up releasing (on Monday).” It also was not hard to notice that one CIFSS school, Verbum Dei of Los Angeles, has announced it was cancelling football and cross country (its two fall sports) and not planning on fielding teams at all during the 2020-21 season. Verbum Dei is an all-boys Catholic school.
L.A. City Section – There wasn’t much to add from last week since the section released its 2020-21 schedule and statement not long after the CIF’s state release. Trent Cornelius, the director of athletics for the L.A. Unified School District, offered a lot of guidance for parents and others in an interview with the L.A. Times. L.A. Unified’s announcement of going to online-only classes to start the school year from two weeks ago definitely set the tone for other districts in the state. It therefore makes sense to closely follow how the school year develops in California’s largest school district.
Central Section – We don’t know if this is common or not among all school districts that have full distance learning options for students, but it was hard not to notice that in the Visalia Unified School District that any students who choose online learning also will be enrolled at Mt. Whitney High and will no longer be enrolled at their original school of residence. The district has three other high schools — Golden West, Redwood and El Diamante — so if a Redwood student-athlete doesn’t want to have to switch to Mt. Whitney (the rival school) he or she would have to choose the hybrid model, which eventually will go to in-person classes. “I don’t think most families who choose that model (online) will want to be in sports or in other situations around lots of people,” VUSD superintendent Tamara Ravalin told the Visalia Times-Delta newspaper. Still, it appears to be a method to get some families to go back to physical classrooms faster than maybe they otherwise would.
Central Coast Section – The section’s executive committee met one day after the CIF state guidelines were announced and came out with a very similar model, including fall sports practice starting Dec. 14 and first football games for January 8. “In the end, we landed where the state was, but there was a lot of talk that got us to that point,” CCS commissioner David Grissom told the San Jose Mercury-News. “The executive committee was awesome and asked a lot of questions. And they landed pretty much where we thought we probably would land. But now it’s hoping that we can do it.”
North Coast Section – Similar to the L.A. City, Southern and Central sections, the NCS announced its new calendar on the same day that the CIF state guidelines were out. The biggest news of the week probably was the announced hiring at Liberty of Brentwood (the 2018 CIF D1-A state champion) of Matt Hoefs as new head coach of the football team. Previous head coach Ryan Partridge left earlier in the summer to become an assistant at Ferris State in Michigan. Hoefs was the defensive coordinator.
Sac-Joaquin Section – The Sac-Joaquin has a lot of multi-sport athletes, especially in the smaller Sierra Foothill and Mother Lode communities, which had a lot of journalists in the section, including the Sacramento Bee’s Joe Davidson, writing about some of the choices these athletes could be facing with the condensed three seasons going to just two. That’s an issue for three-sport athletes everywhere, but hopefully by January they will at least have those options at all. If the pandemic doesn’t improve, everything can still be cancelled.
Northern Section – This is where the initial reaction of most schools in the section was to go against the CIF and try to get fall sports done in the actual fall. Late last week, the Eastern Athletic League, which is the league with the biggest schools in the section from Redding and Chico, announced that it too would be pushing back to match the state schedule. The sense now, based on reporting from our friends at the Shasta County Sports website, is that the fall is remaining an option only for the smaller schools in the section. These would be some of the schools that were D5 in that section’s playoffs last year or even eight-man. In the last two years of the CIF NorCal regional football title games, the Northern Section D5 champion (Fall River of McArthur) opted out. The impetus for those schools has nothing to do with politics, but most are in places way up north that are cold, snowy and just not conducive to football in winter months. Cold-weather states, the same ones that don’t start playing baseball and softball until late March, are in the same boat.
San Francisco/Oakland Sections – No updates were available from either section. The SF Section website has announced the postponement of fall sports and that additional schedules will be completed at a later date.
KEY PLAYERS: STAYING OR GOING?
It only took a few hours last week after the CIF schedule changes were released for one of the top ranked football players from the Class of 2021 to say he would be leaving his school as planned in January and heading off to his college. That player, all-state defensive tackle Victory Vaka from Westlake of Westlake Village, has committed to Texas A&M, but later in the week he tweeted that he had discussed the situation further with his family and instead will stay in California longer and will indeed play out his senior season at Westlake.
Every situation for every player and family involved is different, but Vaka’s switch shows that each decision is going to be difficult. It may depend on each player’s position, how the pandemic is progressing (or not) in other states and many other factors. Quarterbacks would seem to be more pressured to get to their colleges in January, as almost all with Power 5 conference commitments now do, but as our former colleague Brian Stumpf pointed out (he’s now the director of the highly-regarded Elite 11 quarterback events) quarterbacks need lots of reps against live competition. It’s not just about getting to college quickly.
We went through all of the players on our Hot 100 recruiting list for the Class of 2021 and have the following list of players who’ve said with no uncertainty that they will be graduating early as planned and will not be playing as seniors for their high schools in January:
Beaux Collins WR (St. John Bosco) Clemson
Jaylin Davies DB (Mater Dei) Oregon
Xavier Worthy WR (Central, Fresno) Michigan
Jermaine Terry TE (Kennedy, Richmond) Cal
Akili Calhoun DL (Liberty, Brentwood) Cal
Xamarion Gordon DB (Warren, Downey) USC
Robert Regan DB (Lutheran, Orange) Arizona St.
The state and nation’s No. 1 recruit, DL Korey Foreman from Centennial of Corona, tweeted out that “if they make me choose between my senior season or going to college … please believe i’m headed to my first camp .. no questions asked.” That would appear to be a declaration that he’s not going to play at Centennial, but Foreman is still deciding on which school he’ll attend. First things first for him.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that our No. 2 ranked prospect in the state, quarterback Tyler Buchner (just transferred from Bishop’s of La Jolla to Helix of La Mesa), was undecided. Buchner is committed to Notre Dame (which has a graduating senior QB right now). The Union-Tribune added that Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Miller Moss (played last year at Alemany of Mission Hills) had said he was headed to USC, but the Orange County Register has only mentioned Moss using a heartbreak emoji on a tweet.
These situations also creates a dilemma for us as state record keepers. If Buchner never throws a pass or suits up for a game with Helix or Moss never throws a pass or suits up with Mater Dei, none of their career high school records will show them with those schools. In fact, no matter the sport, we’ve decided that the most straightforward way to handle transfer situations is that all players will be listed for alumni lists based on the last team they played for. This includes players who may have left their high schools, gone to a prep school like IMG Academy or Napa’s Prolific Prep in basketball, and came back to graduate.
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AROUND THE NATION
So far in a state-by-state look at how the various high school governing bodies are handling fall sports, California is only joined by Washington, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington DC, Virginia and Vermont as state’s that have pushed those seasons into late December for practices and early January for live contests. Virginia’s High School Sports League (there are a lot of private schools in that state who are not members) just announced its delay of fall sports to the spring (Feb. 15 to May 1).
Some of the cold-weather states probably don’t have much of a choice but to try to play football in the fall as much as possible since there’s a lot of snow on the ground and frigid conditions in January and February.
Texas will have various start times depending on the region of the state while Florida has simply delayed its fall season. The pandemic itself, as Major League Baseball found out on Monday with the Miami Marlins being hit by multiple positive COVID-19 tests and having to postpone its home opener this week, will likely have the final say. If it’s not under control, there’s a good chance that states going ahead with football are going to see teams taking forfeit losses with positive tests and seasons cancelled no matter what the governors of those states want.