After a nearly seven-month delay to the football season due to COVID-19, Kentlake High School junior quarterback Nate Beck admits he had trouble sleeping the night before his first practice.
“Oh my gosh, it feels amazing,” the masked-up Beck said from 6 feet away as he took a short break from practice on a sunny Monday, March 1. “Last night (Sunday) was like Christmas Eve to me. It was hard falling asleep. It’s so exciting to finally be out here after everything we’ve gone through the past year. It’s good to just see everybody out here and get moving, get rolling.”
During a normal year, Kentlake and the rest of the North Puget Sound League (NPSL) teams would have started practice last August and games in September. Now it’s a six-week spring season.
“We’ve probably got 60 guys out here,” Beck said. “Just being with your brothers, there’s no better feeling.”
The NPSL and Kent School District are following COVID-19 Sporting Activities Guidance set by the state for Season 1 practices and games for football, cross country, girls soccer, volleyball, girls swimming and boys and girls golf.
“There’s a lot,” Kentlake football coach Kevin Hurt said about pandemic protocols. “The biggest things are masking, distancing and keeping things clean. We have hand sanitizer stations. We have cones on the sideline so players stay 6 feet apart if they’re not in a drill.”
As players gathered near the sideline, Hurt yelled a reminder.
“Guys, 6 feet!”
Hurt said players are adjusting to wearing masks all of the time. Masks are required for practices and games.
“Once the helmets are on, it’s pretty tough to take them off,” Hurt said.
The coach then reminded a student assistant to clean the footballs every 10 minutes. The student also wiped down any blocking pads or other equipment used by the players.
At one point in the practice, a Kentlake assistant coach yelled at the small group of players as he instructed them.
“Great job social distancing!”
Certainly, not a phrase ever heard before this season during a football practice.
When players performed one-on-one tackling drills, coaches told them to quickly back away from the other player after the drill.
“We’ve kind of gotten used to it, but it’s weird,” Beck said about wearing face masks and the rest of the protocols.
A few weeks ago, it looked pretty uncertain whether Kent schools would get a chance to play sports. The district was the last in the NPSL to allow students to begin conditioning drills, which started Feb. 15.
Beck helped lead a rally at the school district headquarters to get approval to return to play.
“I don’t know if we would be here without his work,” Hurt said about the quarterback. “The way he networked with students at other schools and rallied everybody at Kent schools together, if that doesn’t happen we might not have been out here. We are really proud of the leadership he put in to make this happen.”
Beck said a lot of students in the district wanted to play. He especially wanted to assist seniors seeking a college athletic scholarship to give them one last chance to perform before they graduate.
“It was a fast process,” said Beck, who also started an online petition to help get sports back. “We knew we had to move fast or the NPSL was going to go on without us. We got the rally done, did a bunch of interviews and they finally heard us and let us start training and now we are out here. It was super important to make sure our voices were heard.”
Hurt was one of more than a dozen Kentlake coaches that signed a letter in January to Superintendent Calvin Watts and the Kent School Board asking that athletes be allowed to train for the start of the season similar to neighboring districts.
“I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous today (Monday),” Hurt said about the opening day of practice. “I felt the butterflies and everything. It’s a great feeling. We are excited to be back here. If you had asked us a month ago, we weren’t sure we were going to play.”
Kentlake is scheduled to play six games over the next six weeks. The Falcons will face Kentwood, Todd Beamer, Auburn Riverside, Auburn, Auburn Mountainview and Kent-Meridian. There will be no playoffs.
“All we wanted was a chance to play and be able to do what every other district was doing,” Beck said. “The fact to have a possible six games is awesome and I’m glad we’ve got that opportunity.”
It’s doubtful any fans will be allowed at the games. State guidelines restrict the number of people at a game to 200, and that counts each player, coach and the rest of the staff on the two teams, which pushes the number close to 200.
Fans or not, Beck can’t wait for the March 12 opener against Kentwood.
“Before we got our (fall) season canceled that was the one game I highlighted because that’s our rival,” Beck said. “I don’t even like to say their school name, honestly.”
Kentwood won 41-6 when the teams last met in 2019.
“I wasn’t playing that game, it didn’t go well for us,” Beck said. “But we hope to bounce back this year.”