ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) – Football practice at North Cross School in Roanoke is a little different this year.
“We’re only allowed six people in our locker room when usually it’s the whole team. That’s different,” said senior quarterback Gabe Zappia. “Our trainer has to fill up our water bottles every time. We’re not allowed to do that. And especially in drills, too, we just can’t be close to each other.”
But what’s also different is that, unlike nearly every other high school team in the Commonwealth, the Raiders are preparing to compete in less than two weeks.
North Cross starts its eight-game campaign next Friday against the Virginia Spartans, and head coach Stephen Alexander said it’s all possible thanks to strict testing and safety precautions.
“There’s a lot of ways to handle this, one of which is to test everyone to make sure we’re not spreading and that’s the way we’ve gone,” he said ahead of practice Tuesday.
In a normal year, the Raiders would be on a title defense fresh off capturing the VISAA Division II championship. But there are no playoffs this year, and Alexander said his seniors are helping their teammates understand the sacrifices needed to pull off this season.
“They’ve stepped up to encourage the rest of the team to take the time and energy to be thoughtful about what you’re doing on the weekends and how you’re interacting,” said Alexander.
“We can’t be running around just because we’re football players, acting stupid, because they know we’re playing,” said senior linebacker and wide receiver James Jackson. “We’re kind of getting a little more attention than usual. Everybody’s watching us to see how this goes.”
With the Virginia High School League punting on a fall season and setting its sights on the spring, North Cross knows it’s the only game in town, and Alexander said it was important to keep the games on in 2020.
“Every high school coach in this area will tell you that football matters,” he said. “It matters to the community and it matters to individual kids and it matters to individual families. And I know that all the coaches in the area would be out here if they could because they all care about their kids, they care about their families and they care about their communities.”
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