“First of all, we’re just glad to be back.”
Todd Breland begins his first year as head football coach at South Jones during unusual times. In March, all sporting events in Mississippi — and across the United States — came to a halt due to the Coronavirus outbreak. It meant no spring practice and threatened summer workouts.
Months later, on May 11, the Mississippi High School Activities Association ruled that summer workouts could begin on June 1.
"We're glad to see the kids and glad to have them back on campus," said Breland. "As always, our safety and their safety is our number one priority. We're following all the guidelines handed down by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and the MHSAA."
Jones County coaches, including Breland, met with the school district soon after the MHSAAs announcement and made the needed adjustments.
"On a day-to-day basis, we have our kids split up into small groups," Breland said. "We're staggering them across the campus in different facilities. We have cleaning supplies located in each facility and proper cleaning after each use. We're also not using footballs and pads at this point.
“It’s been a challenge, but we’ll overcome it. These next few weeks, we’ll take it to improve our physical condition.”
Staggering kids across the campus in smaller groups is harder than it might have been if this was another year at South Jones. With Breland's arrival, football has peaked the interest of several kids who've never given football a thought in recent years. Breland currently has 92 players on the roster, an uptick of 29 players from its final roster a year ago.
“The attendance in practice has been good,” said Breland. “And I believe it will continue to be that way. We’ll get there.”
The guidelines laid out by the MHSAA has made practice hard, though.
"It's hard to practice football without a football," said Breland. "It's hard to practice basketball without basketball. But we're finding other ways. As I've stressed to the kids, we've got to play the mental game. That has been the biggest challenge."
Breland said the mandatory break due to COVID-19 has been totally bad, though.
"The time away — and I've talked to players and coaches alike — has made the kids more attentive and excited than normal," said Breland. "They were tired of being away from football. Our time away made everyone excited to get back together.
"The attitude of the players has been tremendous," said Breland. "And the support of the community has been tremendous.
Despite the circumstances due to the Coronavirus, South Jones is in a good position moving forward.
"We have a lot of young talent [on this team]," Breland said. "And from the older kids, there's a lot of production coming back from last year. It's a pretty good mix when you mix the veteran production with the young talent coming up."
South Jones plans to open the upcoming fall season on Friday, August 21 vs. Sumrall. It will be a home game in Ellisville.