Even in a pandemic, there’s lots to do at a Norris Senator football practice

The Norris Senators are gearing up for another season of middle school football, doing their best to run things despite COVID-19 restrictions and an uncertain season going forward.

Richie Noe, head coach for the Senators, sat down during an Anderson County High School morning practice to talk about how the season is going for the Senators – and he admitted, things are changed.

“It’s greatly limited us,” Noe said. “We can’t do one-on-ones. Everyone looks good when you’re going against air, but it heavily restricts our ability to do more. We’ve only practiced five or six times in the past couple of weeks, because we don’t want to be the school that causes everyone else to shut down because we let our kids get too close. We’re 100-percent following the rules.”

Every coach is different, just like every team is different, and that means every coach and every team is operating around the restrictions differently, trying to figure out what one can do to get the kids ready for the season. Still, according to Noe, even with the limiting aspect, they’ve still had a lot to do at practice.

“You can run routes, go over defensive stunts, try to teach linemen who to block. Our quarterback is throwing a lot, and we’ve done some handoffs and that’s probably the absolute closest we’ve got. We’ve tackled dummies, run cones, conditioning stuff like that.

“It’s strange to say, but we’ve never truly conditioned the kids because we didn’t want to run anyone off, and also our ballgames are only eight minutes a quarter, so they get plenty of time to breathe. It’s not soccer.”

In a surprise, Noe said they’ve had more kids than ever coming out.

“We thought it was going to be a 35- or 40-person year, and right now we’re at 54,” he said. “That’s just word of mouth, too. We’re not advertising to our rising 6th- and 7th-graders that they can come out for football. People are stir crazy.”

The offensive line this year looks strong, with players like Ty Murphy that got a lot of time on the field last year. Rising seventh-graders like Slade Alley and Bennet Hicks should make a difference for the Senators, too.

“Jackson Hills is another,” said Noe. “He had a huge growth spurt. Now he’s got big shoulders, big legs, and he can really run. Our offensive line looks good. Our incoming seventh-graders are going to be the centerpiece of the receiving core. Reese Russell, Even Piat, and Will Presley. They’re catching the ball well, and they really worked through the pandemic.”

The Senators have two quarterbacks this year, Blane Stansbury and Cody Miller, and Noe said that, in any other year, they’d be grateful to have either of them.

“They’re both really good. Top to bottom, [Cody] Miller is probably the best football player on the team. He can play any position on the field. Blane has really developed into a quarterback this year. He’s grown a lot, he’s throwing the ball farther, got a lot more velocity, a lot more accuracy. If anything, we could move Blane out to a wide receiver or a tight end and have a nice big seventh-grader out there.”

Defensively, the team is still a little uncertain how it’s looking, and Noe said it will probably stay that way for now.

“Cody Miller will probably set that one for us,” he said. “Hayden Craig and Wyatt Larue have come out, and they’ve not played football for us yet. Everyone’s in t-shirts right now, and everything really changes once you put pads on. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

When asked his predictions for the season, Noe said:

“I think this is a year where a lot of eighth-graders who haven’t gotten the opportunity to play will have that opportunity now.

“We’ll see who worked hard during the pandemic and who didn’t, because those guys should separate themselves a little bit. You can tell who’s been working.

“A couple of the kids have a group that meets outside of practice and you can tell: they’re catching everything , they run better routes, you can just tell.”