Some high school football coaches are expressing concerns over potential COVID-19 risks at private football events. At least one coach is taking it a step further to discourage his players from attending.
"I told them, 'I can't take the risk,'" said Mill Creek football coach Josh Lovelady. "I've got to protect the whole group."
That's why Lovelady told his players that anyone who attends an off-campus football camp or 7-on-7 event would have to miss 10 days of practice, just in case they were exposed to COVID-19. After that, they would have to take a few days to ramp back up to full-contact practice.
"You've got to look at the risk reward of everything, every decision we make," said Lovelady.
Camps and similar events are a staple for football players in the offseason, providing coaching, competition and perhaps most importantly, one extra way to get exposure for college coaches. Right now, however, high school coaches are worried that, if players are following strict COVID-19 safety measures on campus, are they doing the same at the private events?
"I'm not saying you're going to catch it at a camp, but you could," said Shiloh head coach Tino Ierulli. "It's out of our control. When we're trying to have a season, pushing for a season, and outside sources are trying to conduct their own thing ... it's ridiculous."
Every camp, 7-on-7 tournament and the like are different, and all have their own safety plans. One event held in metro-Atlanta last weekend got a lot of attention, after pictures were posted to social media of student athletes and coaches close together with very few face masks.
The event was held by InfiniT football, a company that hosts camps, but also provides a proprietary platform for colleges to manage their own rosters and find recruits.
"Right now in this climate, any decision you make is going to be scrutinized and critcized," said InfiniT football CEO Jason Wade.
Wade says, what people may not have known from the pictures online, was that they had extensive safety measures in place. Wade says they temperature checked everyone who attended, provided free face masks to all participants, spaced out check-in stations and more.
The event, which was held in Dacula, had about 400 participants and was held over two days, according to Wade. He says that none of the participants have contacted his organization to say they caught COVID-19 after taking part in the camp; nor have any of the participants in an earlier camp held in Columbia, South Carolina gotten in touch to say they got sick. Attendees at both camps got a survey to ask about their experiences.
"Anybody can pop a picture and go, 'hey, this is a snapshot of what happened,'" said Wade. "The truth of the matter is if you were there, a parent or a coach, it's likely you said these guys did a real good job of managing this."
Wade emphasized that all the people working at the camps have a coaching background, and their focus is helping the students, and potentially helping them land a college scholarship. They also point to the mental health aspect of additional activities for student athletes, and say they donate a portion of their proceeds to Hilinski's Hope, a charity in South Carolina that raises money for mental health causes.
The high school coaches say they respect the role that camps play in the high school football world, but given what's happening in the world at large, any potential risk is magnified.
"It's just like a parent: you want to protect your children, we want to protect our players," said Lovelady. "It gets emotional. We know there's some dire decisions that may end up cutting our season, we don't want to do anything that may help that."