BY ERIN GALLAGHER | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | SEPTEMBER 23, 2020
Hinesburg, Vt. – Champlain Valley Union High School’s football team recently started practicing for this year’s season — though the game they’ll be playing this year is quite different than in years past.
Vermont high school football this year will be seven vs. seven, one hand touch, according to CVU head coach Rahn Fleming and guidelines from the Vermont Principals’ Association. Along with many other small changes, this means that tackles are prohibited, and the position of lineman has been effectively eliminated.
Because there are no linebackers, the linemen play the first and third quarters, and the backs and receivers play the second and fourth quarters, Fleming said. All the linemen, then, are playing as receivers and backs.
Face coverings are required, Fleming said, and if a player is seen with their mask down during a play it’s a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Because of this, it’s important they practice with the mask on, he said.
Fleming said high school football this year is “almost an entirely different endeavor.”
On Wednesday, a fully remote day for CVU students, the varsity football team convened on the field to practice. Each player dropped off an envelope of money to Kelley Anderson, the president of the booster board — fundraising has not changed this year.
One player put on music, and everyone began to warm up even before Fleming arrived.
“At first I think people were bummed, but I think now they’re just out having fun,” Anderson said about the modified season.
Per VPA’s rules, the high schools now must play in “scheduling regions.” This means that CVU won’t play some of the teams they would typically play — such as St. Johnsbury, as one player pointed out. CVU plays its first game until September 29th, when they will play at Colchester.
Because of the pandemic restrictions, players are unable to use locker rooms this season, Fleming said. Though JV and varsity usually practice together, they are on different fields this season due to the pandemic, Anderson said.
Player attitude surrounding all the rule changes is mixed. Several players expressed concern around wearing the masks during play. “The energy on the team is a little bit lower” this year, the team captains said.
One captain also said that not being able to contact one another has been difficult for some players. Contact is “an instinctual thing playing the game.”
One lineman talked about his discomfort with playing the parts of the game that he never would have played before. “It’s hard to adjust,” he said. “And it really just doesn’t feel like the game of football to me.”
According to Fleming, though, not all the players feel this way. “Some of our linemen actually are seeing this as an opportunity to reveal their true identities. They’ve been a wide receiver all their life, just no one ever knew,” he said.
Despite all the changes, the roster numbers are high. Fleming places current enrollment around 70 players, when they had many fewer in past years. The team has also stayed focused on team and community building even under these circumstances.
One team captain said, “I think teamsmanship is the same.”
Fleming also underlined the importance of pre-season time, which “gives the older players the opportunity to be real time, in the moment mentors.”
Even those that aren’t thrilled about the changes in the game are excited that there is football this year at all. “It’s nice to have at least something,” one player said.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.