It seems like a year since Chris Young was promoted to Head Coach of the Greenwood Bulldogs, so much has happened since that day just four months ago. Clearly things have not unfolded as the first-year head coach had hoped.
Local fans had hardly gotten over the shock of Rick Jones leaving for an advisory position with the Missouri Tigers when American society and all its sporting activities were brought to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Schools across the nation have been closed since mid-March and prep athletes have been unable to access their normal training and practice facilities. Spring sports were cancelled, and coaches were barred from having direct contact with student-athletes.
Many high school seniors were denied their final seasons as prep athletes, while their proms and graduations have been postponed or cancelled altogether. In short, it’s been a disaster for America, especially for education and sports.
Of course, all that pales in comparison to the deaths of over 100,000 Americans from the virus, or the 40 million people who lost their jobs due to the shutdown, or the civil unrest currently taking place in some of our largest cities.
But the return of sports is one of the ways America will rebound from the nightmare of the past three months, from pro teams to colleges, high schools, and even junior high. Resuming sports is a big step toward normalcy.
Coach Young and his revamped staff of assistants, along with over 200 eager players from grades 7-12, are ready to do their part to put the GHS football program back in business.
The Arkansas Activities Association, in conjunction with the Governor’s office and state health officials, recently allowed student-athletes and coaches to resume workouts under guidelines designed to safeguard their health and limit further spread of the virus.
GHS football players returned to campus on Monday, June 1st, and Coach Young sat down for an extended interview with the Greenwood Dog Pound two days later. He was composed, but clearly glad to be back on the job.
Asked about how the shutdown had affected him personally, Young said, “There are certainly a lot of negatives, but there are some positives as well. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time with the family, and being home in the evening and eating dinner with my family has been great.
“But obviously our football plans have been turned upside down,” he continued. “We felt like we had set a really good schedule. We added some 7-on-7 team camps and competitions, but those are all out the window right now.
“The hardest part is not knowing. If we knew that July 6th we’re opened back up, you can do team camps and compete, it would make things a lot easier. But we just don’t know what we’re going to be allowed to do in a week or a month, so it makes it hard to schedule things out,” he explained.
“We don’t know about FASDOGS yet. We don’t know how many kids they’re going to let us have at one time. How many kids can we appropriately spread out at one time and still keep them safe? So we’re getting a lot of questions we don’t have the information to answer right now, because we’re waiting on directives from the state and our administration on what we can do,” he said.
“Individually, the players have not been able to get exposed to colleges, which hurts their recruiting. We’ve got some very talented players that I think can play at the next level, especially kids that are going to be seniors. It’s going to be tough on them and not necessarily fair. Everybody in the country is going through the same thing, but I hate it. They’ve not been able to show what they can do,” added the first-year head coach.
“As for Arkansas high school football, we’re on the same playing field as everybody else, because we’re all having to follow the same restrictions,” said Young. “We’ve got to make the best out of the situation. Now that we’re allowed to work, we’re going to try to out-work everybody and use it to our advantage.
“[The varsity] stated Monday and had 91 of 92 kids here, which we were thrilled [about]. We have some kids in great shape and some kids that aren’t in very good shape. We sent out some workouts and we had a lot of kids training at home, but we have a lot of kids that don’t have access to weights.
“Conditioning is a huge factor,” he continued. “The first day I think I spent more time cleaning up throw-ups than we did coaching. The second day was a lot better. But we’re excited about getting back to work and I think our kids probably worked more than a lot of places did over the break.
“I think we have some kids that are out of shape. But my heart tells me our kids work harder than other [kids]. They know how to work and know its importance. We also had quite a few kids come back in great shape. Their bodies had changed. You could tell they were working out on a regular basis. So I don’t have a concern about that. We’re going to out-work people. We just had to start June 1 instead of in the spring.”
Despite the mandatory shutdown, Young and his coaches remained busy meeting with each other in person when possible, or via Zoom. They also met with players twice a week on Zoom. Three new coaches were also hired this spring, all of them from Central Arkansas, so it took some time for them to make the move to Greenwood.
“All three of our new coaches are here [now],” said Young. “They were here on Monday for our first workout. We’re excited to finally get them here.”
Asked about players taking responsibility for their own off-campus workouts, Young said, “I don’t know a whole lot about it because we weren’t allowed to be involved, but I do know that we’ve had a large group of kids [working out].
“Our QBs have been getting some training with [former Bulldog and UCA quarterback] Luke Hales, and I’ve heard great things from parents about him. I think our [receivers] were getting together and running routes too.
“I know one day they got with [former Bulldog and Razorback receiver] Drew Morgan and ran routes. Our kids like to work out and stay active and I think they got together on their own quite a bit. I know we had kids that used that as an opportunity to become leaders,” said Young.
“We have 10 squad leaders, and each one has 10 guys under them, so when I had information to send out I would send it to those 10 seniors and they would [pass it on] to their [guys]. We never attended anything they did on their own. We couldn’t suggest things, we couldn’t watch, because it was all voluntary.
“But you could tell that the kids are excited and ready to get back,” Young continued. “They’ve been getting out together and working out, but you can only stay home for so long. Obviously, we want them safe and following the guidelines, but they’re ready to get back to work for sure.”
Regarding the Bulldogs’ reputation as one of the best-conditioned teams in the state, Young didn’t think the effects of the shutdown would last long. “I think our workouts are going to take care of that. I think kids will get in shape quicker than we think, and we could already tell a huge difference between the first day and the second day.”
However, he was concerned with the shutdown’s impact on the Bulldogs’ efforts to choose a new signal caller. “We have a tremendous battle at quarterback,” he admitted. “We’ve got some kids that can really throw the ball, but they’re young and inexperienced, and missing spring ball and the 7-on-7s and the team camps is a big concern for us.
“Coach [Zach] Watson is working with each quarterback individually, just being able to evaluate them. He’s a little behind on knowing the kids and knowing what they’re able to do.” Watson is the team’s new offensive coordinator.
“I’ve been here a long time, and I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Young. “We’ve got four guys that I think can play [quarterback]. L.D. Richmond will be a senior and started in ninth grade at quarterback. The other three are sophomores-to-be. In no particular order, Hunter Houston, Storm Scherrey, and Joe Trusty.
“Joe played some junior varsity ball for us last year because we wanted all three of those kids to get reps. But he got injured and missed a lot of time. Hunter and Storm rotated in the ninth-grade program.
“So we’ve got a four-way battle, which is exciting,” beamed Young. “When kids compete, they improve. All four of those guys have an opportunity to win that job and we may play more than one. It’s going to be exciting to see them compete.”
Asked about another former quarterback, Noah Janzten, the Bulldogs’ new head coach said, “Noah is a great athlete and played quarterback in junior high. He will be a junior and is very gifted. We’re going to do some things [with him]. Right now we’ve got him at receiver because we feel like he can help us more there. He’ll be on the field. He’s [a good runner] and very strong. We’re going to play him some in the slot at receiver and some H-back stuff.”
Regarding team chemistry after the long layoff, Young said, “We’ve got a very close team, and it comes from good leadership. We’ve got 30 seniors and those guys have done a great job of accepting the younger players.
But a lot of uncertainty remains. “We’re not sure about FASDOGS,” said the coach. “I’ve visited with Dr. Johnson, our team doctor, and Mr. Ciesla, our superintendent. We’ve had those discussions. The biggest concern is with FASDOGS we have 500 people up here, so that’s a decision we’re hoping to make by June 15th.
“We will have a FASDOGS workout for 7-12th grade football, we know. Right now, any time we work out we’ve got to be six feet apart while resting, or 12 feet apart while exercising. But the big thing is we must clean each time we bring in a different group, which takes about 30 minutes.
“I hate that we’re having to wait to make that decision. Obviously, we want to have FASDOGS. We know it’s important to our community. We think it helps our program. We like to get to know those kids. It helps them want to play football and be part of our program as they get older. We also enjoy having athletes from the other sports. Overall, it’s a huge benefit. But if it’s not safe, we’re not going to do it,” said Young.
“We want to put safety first. We’re following the guidelines, but we’re still coaching hard, we’re coaching fast, and coaching loud at times. I don’t think it’s going to change the way we coach except to make us more aware of things we can do to increase player safety and coaches’ safety.”
As for player buy-in with the new restrictions, Young said, “Our kids understand what’s going on. [They] are very intelligent. They understand everything we’re doing is for their safety and the safety of the staff. When they walk in here, we’ve got to ask them questions and they’ve got to have their masks on. Their masks come off while they’re exercising and recovering. When they rotate between stations, they put the masks back on.
“Coaches are wearing their masks 100% of the time, and that’s difficult,” admitted Young. “Our guys coach hard and work hard and they’re sweating, but we’re not looking for excuses. That’s what we need to do.”
Young said the next announcement from the state is expected by June 30th. “We don’t know about the dead period,” he said. “We’re just playing the waiting game. Parents want information and our kids need to plan things for the summer, and we don’t have the information to provide right now. So hopefully the AAA will get us that information as soon as possible.
“We understand that families plan vacations in advance, and we want them to go on those trips. So if the [normal] dead period is waived, we’re going to have the facilities open and we want the kids to come to a weight workout. But if they’re on vacation we want them to go and there will be no penalty,” said Young.
“I’ve got coaches who have scheduled trips, and I want [them] to spend time with their families. I think that’s important. If [players] are in town, we’ll provide a place for them to work out.”
Asked if coaches and athletic directors have been party to the decision-making process of state athletic officials, Young said, “I’ve visited regularly with Dr. Smith. I think the athletic directors have had a lot more communication with the AAA than the coaches. But I think the AAA is receiving their information and directives from the state.
“I have a circle of coaches that I talk to regularly, and we share information and ideas. But the athletic directors have met directly with the AAA, though I’m not sure what level of input they’ve had,” said Young.
Asked to describe the current health protocols in place, he said, “When [players] come in, they’ve got to have a mask on. We take their temperature and ask them three questions, and if they answer yes to any of those questions, they’ve got to go home. They have to spread out six feet apart and wear their masks until they begin exercising. It’s challenging at times,” he admitted.
Young also said there had been no new player arrivals or move-ins so far this spring. “I think with everything going on there will be a lot less movement than normal, and maybe there will be some kids that are moving later that we haven’t heard about. But our numbers are great. I think the first day we had 217 kids [grades] 7-12.
“We had a small group of ninth graders last year that are sophomores now, but we have a very large group of ninth graders [this year], and a good size group of eighth graders, and we had 39 seventh graders come out day one, which was awesome. We’ll have more than that play, but we wanted to do a little bit with our seventh grade this summer just so we get to know them, and they get to know the coaches. They’re going two days a week right now for an hour and we’ll continue that throughout the summer,” explained the youthful head coach.
“We wanted to add some 7-on-7 things this summer to give our kids a chance to compete, but those are cancelled now. We’re trying to find a way to do the same stuff we’ve done, only better. We’re going to continue to do the same things we’ve done that have made us successful in the past.”
Describing the current football schedule, Young said, “The varsity is divided into two groups. Squads 1-5 go from 8-9 am. Squads 6-10 go from 9:30-10:30. We’re only allowed an hour these first couple of days, then it goes to an hour-and-a-hour, then two hours. They go four days a week, an hour each time. They go Monday-Tuesday, off Wednesday, then Thursday-Friday. The ninth grade comes in from 12-1 and does the same workout and the eighth grade from 1:30-2:30.
“Then we’ve got to have a 30-minute break to clean all the equipment and the weight room. The seventh-grade group goes outside because we don’t have room indoors and we don’t lift weights with the seventh graders. We start lifting weights with the seventh graders after their season,” shared the coach.
“It’s just been a challenge spreading everybody out and being able to clean and keeping everyone safe. We’re starting about 7:30 and get done about three o’clock,” he said.
“[Players] are not allowed to wear helmets [yet]. In June we’re focused on strength and conditioning. They are doing a 30-minute workout in the weight room and 30 minutes on the floor. Hopefully when we come back in July, we’re allowed to do more practicing. We are going to throw some starting next week, quarterback to receiver.”
Asked about the role of the team’s training staff during these unprecedented times, Young said, “We’re fortunate enough to have two full-time trainers, Lauren Sexton and Kelby Chambers, and they are here every day. They are monitoring the safety of our kids, and when they offer a suggestion, we’re going to do it.
“They’re in contact with Dr. Lee Johnson on a regular basis. They check the physicals for all our athletes. We’re very fortunate our administration has provided us with two fulltime trainers for the safety of our students and coaches.
“I think the program is in great shape,” surmised Young. “We’re excited. I think we’ve got a chance to be a very good football team this year. Obviously, we’ve got some questions we’ve got to answer, but that’s part of the fun, figuring out a way to put everything together. But we expect to do the things we’ve done in the past.
“There are great expectations, but we enjoy that. It’s why we want to be here. That’s why I was able to go hire three great coaches from great programs, because they understand the expectations [at Greenwood] and what we can accomplish. Our goals have not changed at all.
“We feel very confident in our skills players. We’re excited about our receivers and the running backs we have. We think we’ve have an opportunity to have a good offensive line, and we’ve got a great defensive line. There’s a lot of depth with a lot of guys back.
“At linebacker we’re going to have four new guys, but we’re excited about our guys there. Both of our cornerbacks are returning and we feel like we’re going to be very strong on the edge in coverage.
“Safety is a question. We’ve got some guys we think can be some good players for us there. But we lost both safeties from last year, so that’s going to be a point of emphasis early on, developing two guys that can come down and help us in the box and also help in pass coverage.”
Finally, asked if he believed the season would start on time in September with fans in the stands, Young didn’t hesitate. “I’m a positive person, so my thought is ‘yes’. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen. But I chose to be positive and say that we’re going to give it a go. Certainly that’s our hope.”