Late July usually is a time of high anticipation mixed with a tinge of dread for local athletes. After all, while everyone loves to play, I’ve yet to meet anyone who actually enjoys two-a-day practices.
It’s 2020, though, and a whole new sense of foreboding surrounds this year’s football season.
Perhaps the only thing worse than two-a-days is not being able to have them.
My inner fan doesn’t like the state of this at all. To say he’s on edge is an understatement…
Journalist Michael: I know what you’re going to ask me and the answer remains the same: I don’t know.
Fan Mike: That’s the point. Nobody does. Not the governor, not the NFL commissioner. The worst part of this whole thing has been uncertainty.
JM: Which is why so many student-athletes, parents, teachers and coaches are nervous right now. At this point, we could have a full season or everything could be called off tomorrow by the OHSAA or Gov. Mike DeWine.
FM: You understand why I’m envious of European soccer and southern hemisphere rugby?
JM: I don’t blame you. New Zealand has fans in the stands. English and Spanish soccer have full slates of games being made up. Meanwhile, American professional sports is just now coming back online and with major restrictions.
FM: It is great to see Major League Soccer back, especially with Columbus doing well — but the pitch at the Stow Soccer Stadium looks more impressive than where they are playing.
JM: I’m curious to see what Major League Baseball and the NBA look like once they’re back. The NHL is about to test how well ice can be maintained in August.
FM: At least they’re doing it in Canada, where it’s not so hot.
JM: Toronto and Edmonton can still get warm in summer.
FM: I mean hot in terms of COVID-19. Canada has done a pretty good job of dealing with the virus. Meanwhile, MLS and the NBA are in Florida, which is going through the roof in terms of COVID-19 infections. Better hope that "bubble" they have holds.
JM: I will say that COVID-19 seems to be doing its best to ruin even the most creative attempts at bringing American sports back. But I also stand on what I said earlier this year.
FM: You mean that quip about no NBA or NHL making people sad, but no NFL would lead to torches and pitchforks?
JM: Exactly. Fans already seem desperate to have the NFL back. Yet no one in the NFL seems to want to deal with the reality of play.
FM: Hasn’t the NFL already canceled its preseason?
JM: Not yet, though the players union voted for that July 3. It seems like high school and collegiate football are ahead of the NFL in taking measures to deal with COVID-19.
FM: It seems like every day there is a new development. The Ivy League had committed to moving football season to the spring. The Big Ten is only playing conference games. I think the other conferences are going to follow suit with one or the other.
JM: Kind of puts the Browns’ signing of Myles Garrett into perspective, doesn’t it?
FM: The cynic would say "Of course the NFL season is in jeopardy. The Browns have actually had a good offseason."
JM: Sounds like cynical sports talk radio chatter to me.
FM: I love the signing of Garrett, along with Austin Hooper and Josh Conklin. The Browns are going with very sound theory that if you keep Baker Mayfield upright, good things are going to happen.
JM: Coach Kevin Stefanski seems to want a "ground-and-pound" offense, which is not a bad idea with Nick Chubb in the backfield. At the very least, the Browns’ offense should be solid this fall … if the season is played.
FM: So, if the season is played, what do think the Browns will do?
JM: 9-7 and just out of the playoffs.
FM: Let me guess your reasoning: "The Browns will be better, but the Ravens and Steelers will be better, too?"
FM: Just talk to me about high school football.
JM: I wish I could. The OHSAA is still saying it wants to run all 10 sports this fall, but says the decisions on whether to play is "a school’s decision," according to interim Executive Director Bob Goldring.
FM: Is it just me or does that mean one school district could play every sport it has this fall, while a district next door closes up shop?
JM: Theoretically, you’re right. That sounds like utter chaos to me. I think OHSAA is waiting for guidance from state government, but the state hasn’t set out guidelines for football, soccer, cross country or field hockey yet.
FM: And practices are still starting on Aug. 1?
JM: According to the OHSAA, yes, but that’s assuming not positive COVID-19 tests.
FM: Something tells me this #IWantASeason campaign might not be enough to get us one. But if if does happen, what are you thinking about the local football season?
JM: Aurora’s run in the Division III final four was no fluke and I never bet against a team coached by Bob Mihalik. I look the Greenmen to be back in the playoffs along with Hudson, while Nordonia and Stow-Munroe Falls are going to return a metric ton of talent.
FM: Who are you tipping for player of the year?
JM: It’s a crowded field this year. There’s a bunch of young quarterbacks returning this fall who can make major impacts; Guys like Hudson’s Jacob Paltani, Stow’s Owen Bainbridge, Aurora’s Alex Moore and Nordonia’s Billy Levak to name a few. I also think Stow wideout Dalen Stovall, Aurora’s do-everything back Evan McVay and Nordonia workhorse Sal Perrine are all due for big years.
FM: But none of these are your choice?
JM: If you ask me what one player means the most to his team, my answer is simple: Michael Bevington at Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who is about to enter his third season as a starter. By the way, he led CVCA to its first playoff win in school history last fall.
FM: Here’s hoping all those kids get to play, especially the seniors.
JM: I do hope, because I’ve had way too many athletes’ careers end prematurely in 2020.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_GAN on Twitter.