Under a scorching bright yellow sun with the temperature inching into the 90s Monday morning, Tyson Moore finally caught up to the calendar.
Named the new Seymour High School football coach in mid-May, Moore at last got a chance to coach players at the start of what he hopes will be a long career doing what he has always wanted to do.
As the world of high school sports waited on the COVID-19 pandemic to allow enough team mingling to permit a practice, Moore impatiently endured a countdown to running his own team.
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He also was ushering in a new era of Owl football on the turf at Bulleit Stadium behind the high school building as he shouted out directions for drills at conditioning stations for about 75 athletes.
Players were spread out over 100 yards of ground as well as under the stands in the weight room under direct supervision of assistant coaches. Although Moore, promoted to head coach after one season as strength coach, remained basically stationary himself for one drill, his head was on a swivel, yelling encouragement across the landscape.
“Keep your hips down!” Moore shouted to one group. “Do things right!”
Moore, anointed the new man at 27 after growing up with a father as a prominent Indiana high school coach, exuded the vibe that he wanted to tell all of the players everything all at once, in between some tweets on his whistle.
“We’re going to take pride in good form and technique!” Moore announced.
Leading up to Day 1, Moore absorbed advice from his father, Eric, 58, a coach for 35 years who has won two state football titles at Center Grove and a track championship.
“Oh, I’m a proud dad,” Eric said the day before Tyson ran his first practice. “I knew he always wanted to be a head coach. It’s a great opportunity to start as a young head coach. I told him, ‘Be patient. Have fun. Be positive.’ I’m excited for him, and I’m scared for him.”
More like nervous. Opening day was months in the making, primarily because high school sports have been paralyzed since March. Seymour and other Indiana schools conducted no spring sports as the deadly coronavirus swept across the state. Athletes could not meet with coaches in person, and players could not work out together.
Eric Moore reminded Tyson he will probably never again deal with a season as odd as this one — because of the virus — no matter how long he coaches.
Tyson Moore’s attitude on the eve of practice?
“Finally, I get to do something,” he said.
Under Indiana High School Athletic Association guidelines, schools could begin supervising activities by following a complex, detailed plan designed to keep athletes healthy and safe while also preparing for their team’s fall activities.
All schools are adhering to a detailed protocol with rolling deadlines that permit more activities as weeks pass. The visible manifestation of the permitted program on the field for the Owls was conditioning, lifting weights, doing drills, running sprints. No blocking, no tackling.
Mindful that some hopefuls have not done a pushup since March, Moore tried not to kill all of his players in one day. However, he also tested them, made them sweat and was able to tell which players worked out and which players spent too much time eating ice cream.
About an hour into the first three-hour session, a few players drifted to the edge of the field and track and leaned on fencing, partially for support as they barfed. It is a ritual of early seas practice, virtually inescapable, that players who show up ill-prepared pay the price by having intimate conversations with their stomachs.
“If you guys have been doing stuff all summer, you won’t feel it as much,” Moore said. “If you have to throw up, go to the fence line. It has really become apparent today who has done what.”
Until then, the drills seemed benign. Then Moore lined the whole crowd up for repeat 100-meter sprints. Then he threw a couple of 200-meter runs into the mix. Soon enough, 10 players were along the fence line. They were not counting the little squares in the design.
One fascinated and pleased observer was Seymour Athletic Director Kirk Manns, Moore’s boss and someone who was flitting around the grounds trying to keep tabs on all sports that were revving up.
Whether it was football players, cross country runners or soccer players, the sight of athletes using the facilities, if only in a limited way, was encouraging. To him and others, it was disappointing to face the defeat of having the virus gain the upper hand in the spring, resulting in the cancellation of all competition.
This exercise symbolized starting over.
“This is what all summer I hoped it would be like,” Manns said. “We said all along getting the kids back on campus would be a big thing.”
Seniors were at least as happy to be there as Manns. They saw many of their friends lose out on their final seasons of eligibility in baseball, track and other sports in the spring and have anxiously watched coronavirus statistics fluctuate up and down as officials mulled rules.
This was a bizarre worldwide phenomenon they had no control over, yet they didn’t want an instant replay of being sidelined.
Back Chandler Drummond was thrilled he was standing and sweating on a football field.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It’s the best feeling ever. I’ve been waiting months. I was being hopeful. When I woke up, I was ecstatic.”
Senior Cody Ruble wants to be Seymour’s starting quarterback, and he did Zoom workouts three days a week into the summer. He was so amped about the first practice, he said, he could not sleep Sunday night.
“There’s nothing like football practice,” Ruble said. “I worked hard, but the coaches work you harder.”
There was an hour to go on the sundial when Moore paused for a smile, a quickie reaction to how the drills were progressing, how the players were responding. He said with a firm satisfaction that things were going even better than expected.