After believing they wouldn’t play until spring, Oct. 9 becomes the target date

The fate of high school football has been all over the map the last several weeks – and so too have the emotions of players, coaches, parents and fans.

Minnesota teams prepared throughout the summer for a season they expected would begin in early September. But on Aug. 4, the Minnesota State High School League, following a trend of states delaying fall sports seasons, moved football back to a March 2021 start because of concerns related to COVID-19. The MSHSL allowed teams 12 fall practices in September and early October, but not long after those workouts began last week there were rumblings that changes were in the works.

Those changes became reality Monday when the MSHSL returned football and volleyball seasons back to fall, with the first football games taking place the second weekend in October. Several factors played into it. The fall sports that were allowed to start on time – soccer, cross country and girls swimming and diving – experienced relatively few problems under procedures designed to reduce the possibility of outbreaks. The MSHSL also was facing public pressure, including a grassroots effort organized by football parents in central Minnesota, and at least one court filing.

South Suburban Conference football players went from believing they would play in the fall, to being resigned to a spring season, to needing to prepare for games that were less than three weeks away.

“You try to keep a level head, and adjust,” Burnsville head coach Vince Varpness said Tuesday as his players trained at Dick Hanson Field. “Football’s a game of adjusting on the fly anyway, so I think it’s good for the kids from the standpoint of being able to adjust to the unexpected. That’s one of the things we teach them about life. Things are going to happen that you can’t control, and you have to adapt your goals. In this case, we have to reignite our goals and refocus.”

Many Blaze players already had come to terms with the possibility of football moving to spring. “I didn’t really have confidence about a fall season. I thought they had already made up their minds,” senior running back Myiion Hodges said.

Once word got out last week that the high school league set a special meeting to reconsider fall football, Burnsville coaches started issuing equipment, just in case. This week’s workouts remain part of the three-week training period the high school league put in place in anticipation of spring football. This week’s sessions are voluntary, with official practice starting Monday, Sept. 28.

But it’s not like flicking a switch. Players – and some coaches – lined up jobs for the fall, assuming there would be no football.

“I think a lot more people are going to start coming out to practice in the next week or so,” said Blaze senior linebacker Adam Chudecke. “A lot of us got jobs, including me. But I’m happy to be here and ready to do the best I can.”

Family routines have been upended multiple times over the last few months, Varpness said. And there was no guarantee of keeping all the seniors for a spring season. Some played another sport in the spring; others expected to be busy with the transition from soon-to-be high school graduate to whatever was next.

“We have a young man - I went to his house last night because he had written football off,” Varpness said. “He had said, ‘I’m a senior, I’ve got other plans for the spring, so I’m not going to play football.’ We got him to come back out again. He said, ‘I want to play if it’s going to be in the fall.’

“Some of those seniors start to check out a little bit if the season’s going to be in the spring. You have to try to reel them back in.”

About 40 players attended Tuesday’s Burnsville workout. That’s a core group that was there during the summer, on the field and in the weightroom. The coaches will continue to work on recruiting Burnsville students who are good athletes and can supply depth.

“These guys who are here now, we can count on. We know that. But we will need more numbers,” Varpness said. “So we’re reaching out to those other kids, trying to get them back because we’ll need to count on them. That’s just the challenge of working with teenagers.”

With preparation time reduced, Varpness expects the Blaze will have a thinner playbook. The emphasis will be on doing fewer things but doing them well. Blaze senior Nathan Le said players also need to take more responsibility for individual skill development.

“Conditioning and execution of your craft are going to be important,” Le said. “Skill positions should work on their jump. Wide receivers should work on their stances and getting off the ball. (Defensive backs) should work on their footwork and coverages. Linebackers, filling holes and callouts. The basic necessities, even more so than the major plays we’re running.”

Football initially had been classified as a “high-risk” activity for COVID-19 transmission. With the sport coming back on several levels (the Big Ten Conference reinstated football beginning Oct. 24 after previously delaying the season until spring), compensations have been made. For high schools, there will be no preseason scrimmages, and Varpness said that’s a loss that will be felt.

“It’s tough not having a scrimmage,” he said. “In practice, it’s hard to go live and there are limitations on what we can do. Kids always think, ‘I’m ready to go.’ Then you get in that first scrimmage, it’s a live environment and you’re pumped up and in full pads, and you find out you need a little more conditioning.”

But, the Blaze players said, it’s better than not having fall football. With a season in the near future, optimism reigns. “I believe we can go 6-0,” Hodges said. “Our seniors have a lot of talent and our line should be better than last year.”

As of Wednesday, a six-game regular-season schedule was still being pieced together, but tentative opening-week games Oct. 9 include Burnsville at Lakeville South, Rosemount at Lakeville North, Eagan at Farmington and Hopkins at Apple Valley.

The fate of high school football has been all over the map the last several weeks – and so too have the emotions of players, coaches, parents and fans.Minnesota teams prepared throughout the summer for a season they expected would begin in early September. But on Aug. 4, the Minnesota State High School League, following a trend of states delaying fall sports seasons, moved football back to a March 2021 start because of concerns related to COVID-19. The MSHSL allowed teams 12 fall practices in September and early October, but not long after those workouts began last week there were rumblings that changes were in the works.Those changes became reality Monday when the MSHSL returned football and volleyball seasons back to fall, with the first football games taking place the second weekend in October. Several factors played into it. The fall sports that were allowed to start on time – soccer, cross country and girls swimming and diving – experienced relatively few problems under procedures designed to reduce the possibility of outbreaks. The MSHSL also was facing public pressure, including a grassroots effort organized by football parents in central Minnesota, and at least one court filing.South Suburban Conference football players went from believing they would play in the fall, to being resigned to a spring season, to needing to prepare for games that were less than three weeks away.“You try to keep a level head, and adjust,” Burnsville head coach Vince Varpness said Tuesday as his players trained at Dick Hanson Field. “Football’s a game of adjusting on the fly anyway, so I think it’s good for the kids from the standpoint of being able to adjust to the unexpected. That’s one of the things we teach them about life. Things are going to happen that you can’t control, and you have to adapt your goals. In this case, we have to reignite our goals and refocus.”Many Blaze players already had come to terms with the possibility of football moving to spring. “I didn’t really have confidence about a fall season. I thought they had already made up their minds,” senior running back Myiion Hodges said. Once word got out last week that the high school league set a special meeting to reconsider fall football, Burnsville coaches started issuing equipment, just in case. This week’s workouts remain part of the three-week training period the high school league put in place in anticipation of spring football. This week’s sessions are voluntary, with official practice starting Monday, Sept. 28.But it’s not like flicking a switch. Players – and some coaches – lined up jobs for the fall, assuming there would be no football. “I think a lot more people are going to start coming out to practice in the next week or so,” said Blaze senior linebacker Adam Chudecke. “A lot of us got jobs, including me. But I’m happy to be here and ready to do the best I can.”Family routines have been upended multiple times over the last few months, Varpness said. And there was no guarantee of keeping all the seniors for a spring season. Some played another sport in the spring; others expected to be busy with the transition from soon-to-be high school graduate to whatever was next.“We have a young man - I went to his house last night because he had written football off,” Varpness said. “He had said, ‘I’m a senior, I’ve got other plans for the spring, so I’m not going to play football.’ We got him to come back out again. He said, ‘I want to play if it’s going to be in the fall.’“Some of those seniors start to check out a little bit if the season’s going to be in the spring. You have to try to reel them back in.”About 40 players attended Tuesday’s Burnsville workout. That’s a core group that was there during the summer, on the field and in the weightroom. The coaches will continue to work on recruiting Burnsville students who are good athletes and can supply depth.“These guys who are here now, we can count on. We know that. But we will need more numbers,” Varpness said. “So we’re reaching out to those other kids, trying to get them back because we’ll need to count on them. That’s just the challenge of working with teenagers.”With preparation time reduced, Varpness expects the Blaze will have a thinner playbook. The emphasis will be on doing fewer things but doing them well. Blaze senior Nathan Le said players also need to take more responsibility for individual skill development.“Conditioning and execution of your craft are going to be important,” Le said. “Skill positions should work on their jump. Wide receivers should work on their stances and getting off the ball. (Defensive backs) should work on their footwork and coverages. Linebackers, filling holes and callouts. The basic necessities, even more so than the major plays we’re running.”Football initially had been classified as a “high-risk” activity for COVID-19 transmission. With the sport coming back on several levels (the Big Ten Conference reinstated football beginning Oct. 24 after previously delaying the season until spring), compensations have been made. For high schools, there will be no preseason scrimmages, and Varpness said that’s a loss that will be felt.“It’s tough not having a scrimmage,” he said. “In practice, it’s hard to go live and there are limitations on what we can do. Kids always think, ‘I’m ready to go.’ Then you get in that first scrimmage, it’s a live environment and you’re pumped up and in full pads, and you find out you need a little more conditioning.”But, the Blaze players said, it’s better than not having fall football. With a season in the near future, optimism reigns. “I believe we can go 6-0,” Hodges said. “Our seniors have a lot of talent and our line should be better than last year.”As of Wednesday, a six-game regular-season schedule was still being pieced together, but tentative opening-week games Oct. 9 include Burnsville at Lakeville South, Rosemount at Lakeville North, Eagan at Farmington and Hopkins at Apple Valley.

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