Friday Night Lights is supposed to be an extraordinary time of year, with a feeling of the nice cool fall air, the super fans going wild in the student section, and the hype music over the loudspeakers as the football team takes the field. Friday Night Lights in the fall have been shut off for now at least.
On July 29, the IHSA made an announcement that football would be postponed to the spring, which would push back the football start point to February 15, leaving the Friday Night Lights shut off for at least 7 months. Unlike Illinois, according to a graphic by Ryan Escobar of MaxPreps, 18 out of the 50 states still planned to go about having a football season this fall; leaving many to be disappointed with an extended offseason and to watch other high schools have their Friday Night Lights.
“I think we were all very shocked because we were all ready to play,” said sophomore football player Jack Kukis. “But I think we knew it was coming because we knew we had e-learning in school, but we were still very shocked and very mad about it too.”
Although the football team has to endure a long offseason, many players are using the long offseason to their advantage by doing workouts and going on runs as they try to stay in shape in time for their spring football season.
“I’ve still been working out, working hard just like everybody else should, so I think we will be ready,” Kukis said. “I’m just hoping that everyone is working hard and still practicing and not laying off just because our season is postponed.”
Along with staying in shape, there is also another challenge in staying safe from the pandemic. Not just for the players’ sake but for the entire team’s sake as well, as someone getting COVID-19 would have some serious consequences on the team.
“You know in reality, I think it is probably a good thing because if somebody were to test positive, it would shut us down for 14 days. The whole program would be shut down for 14 days, so that would cost us at least probably two games,” said varsity football coach Corey Atwell. “Some other states have less restrictions. If you look at Indiana, people say the numbers are great, but if you look at Indiana, there are multiple teams that have not had games, had to forfeit games. Same thing in Iowa. So if you’re lucky and you don’t get anything then good for you, but if you get something, if one person gets it, it will shut you down for 14 days, so I think probably the best chance of getting games in is to probably move it to the spring. Of course, I hate being cold, that’s going to be rough in March, but it will be good for our kids.”
Corey Atwell, now the head coach of Grayslake North Football, came over from Vernon Hills High School to be the assistant coach in 2018. This will be his first head coaching job in his high school career after former head coach Sam Baker left to be the head coach for Rolling Meadows High School following a state playoff loss. But as Atwell got to work taking the reins of the football team, the COVID-19 outbreak hit, and it caused a huge impact to Atwell’s new team.
“I think that the pandemic has affected the team a little bit,” Atwell said. “That one on one with the guys developing a relationship with each other kind of coming together, we were together in the summer, but we couldn’t do a lot of things, we couldn’t do a lot as a team. You have to be separated. It is tough communicating with everybody”.
However, having a football season in the spring could provoke a huge problem. Many football athletes have to make a decision whether they want to play football as many of them do spring sports like lacrosse and track. This can cause problems for many students like feeling overwhelmed and stressed about having to play two sports in the same season.
“Playing in the spring is going to feel different because by that time I am ready to go in lacrosse mode,” said junior lacrosse and football player Travis Standerski. “But I feel like the shorter season will allow us to really take advantage of winning the conference and get focused. For now, I am staying home working out in smaller groups.”
Although the lights may be shut off for now, when they come back on, they will not be shining on a season with falling leaves, gusty winds, and fans layering up to protect themselves from the cold. The lights will be shining on warm, bloomed flowers, with rain sometimes in the forecast with a chance of a few heavy thunderstorms.
“It will be a different feel. The big thing for us right now is to try and get stronger now that we got some extra time. So it is actually a benefit to us a little bit to get stronger, to learn a new offense,” Atwell said.
The spring lights will be a sight to see as the superfans will be back and cheering their knights on to a victory. The football team is making its debut in the Atwell era. So although the pandemic has shut off the lights for fall Friday nights, we will turn the bright lights back on come February.