As San Joaquin County slowly sees its COVID-19 positivity rate dropping, certain restrictions are starting to loosen up.
For many, it’s a welcome change – and it will see the Escalon High School football Cougars return to the gridiron.
Defending state champions, this year’s edition of the varsity football team is eager to play, even though there won’t be any playoffs or championship games this season. Still, the chance to put on the shoulder pads and helmets and face off against other schools on the football field has stirred plenty of excitement on the local high school campus and in the community.
It’s just a handful of games, said varsity head coach Andrew Beam, but enough to get his players energized.
“It has been chaos from the start,” Beam admitted of unexpectedly getting the go-ahead for football a couple of weeks ago, as the COVID-19 metrics fell into line to allow the sport. “It’s a mad dash to get kids back into shape; there is more rust on these kids, they basically had a year layoff.”
While many players maintained personal workout routines and did their best with the weights and conditioning, there’s nothing that can replace the on field practices and competition against other players, said Beam.
The freshman and JV teams will hit the football field first, scheduled for a 9:45 a.m. start to their scrimmage on Saturday, March 13 at Chavez High School in Stockton. The varsity scrimmage is scheduled for 11 a.m.
“Stockton Unified is not allowing any spectators,” Beam said, adding that it will be eerie for his players to suit up and play with no fans in the stands, but they will still seize the opportunity for some competition.
After traveling to Chavez in Stockton for the scrimmage, the actual season will begin on the road. The Cougars will face off with the host Oakdale Mustangs on Friday, March 19 at 7 p.m. in The Corral. The JV game will precede varsity, starting at 5 p.m.; there is no freshman contest that night.
“These are two of the most storied small school programs in the area,” Beam said of the varsity Cougars and Mustangs meeting up for a high-intensity battle. “It’s going to be real fun and a great test for our kids.”
As of presstime, Oakdale was planning to allow two spectators per player, said Beam.
“These kids are finally getting their shot,” he said of his team. “We’ve got 18 new starters and our mantra this year is we don’t re-build, we re-load … it is going to be interesting.”
The first home game is scheduled for Friday, March 26 at Engel Field against the Amador Buffaloes at 7 p.m.
A Thursday, April 1 road game is set against the Kimball Jaguars, 7 p.m.; the rival Ripon Indians come to Engel Field on Friday, April 9 at 7 p.m. and a home game closes out the limited campaign. In the finale, the Cougars will host the Sierra Timberwolves on Friday, April 16 at 7 p.m.