By Delaney White
With the end of Western Albemarle’s basketball season due to a case of COVID-19 on the boys team and the girls team’s loss in post-season play, football season began with new precautions.
Players were disappointed when news came last September that fall sports would be postponed with no certainty that they might resume. “I wouldn’t say I was shocked, but it was a blow to the heart because sports are such a big thing to me and a lot of our teammates,” said senior running back and linebacker, Austin Shifflett. “It hurt. I feel like the community around Western is big with football. Along with football itself, I miss being in school and going to read to elementary students at Brownsville Elementary before games. That was something I got used to at Western, so not being able to do that has been weird.”
Head Coach Ed Redmond said he understood that the team was “disappointed, but it was the right thing to do.”
Practices began February 4 with temperature checks, screening questions, masks at all times, and social distancing on and off the field.
“We have to show up to practice a half-hour early and check our temperature, and we are asked a series of questions of COVID symptoms and wearing a mask throughout the entire practice,” Shifflett said. “We’ve done a good job taking the good with the bad. Practicing with masks hasn’t been very fun, but it’s better for us overall.”
“I really miss being able to be in the locker room with my team before and after practice and just hanging out with them all the time,” added junior tight end and outside linebacker Carson Tujague.
The Warriors are nonetheless grateful are for their chance. “This could be the last time we put on a helmet. This could be the last time we suit up for a practice. We’re just cherishing every moment,” Shifflett said.
They keep the health of their teammates and community as their priority. “We want to play football and succeed in football, but at the end of the day we want our teammates to stay safe. We don’t want any spread to anything, we don’t want to cause harm. If we can all play football and stay safe, that would be a win itself,” Shifflett said.
“We can’t take it for granted because we don’t know if a player could get COVID tomorrow, and we’ll be done for the rest of the season. We really have to take everything seriously,” said Hudson Toll, sophomore quarterback and safety.
“Since we didn’t get to play in the fall, a lot of us had a lot of time to train as individuals,” Tujague said. “A lot of us are stronger and faster than we would have been in the fall. I think together as a team it can make us better. I learned a lot about my teammates because I was surprised at how driven we were because all of us got better during the pandemic even though we could easily have been sitting around doing nothing. All of us got bigger, stronger, faster, and I was really happy to see that.”
“We’ve grown together and we’re fighting adversity as a whole,” Shifflett said. “We’ve all bought into this together and we’re going to fight for each other.”
“We count our blessings especially because we were going to have a season, and the fact that we are here and practicing is really positive for us,” Tujague said.
Coach Redmond has made the Western football program a building block for the lives of his players. “Coach Redmond teaches us lessons about life. He teaches us that it’s not just about football; that we need to be good people on and off the field, and that’s just something I love about Coach Redmond,” Tujague said.
“When I entered Western’s program, they really brought me in like family,” Toll said. “I felt like I belonged there, and we really love the Redmonds for that and continuing to build our community.”
“My goals for the season are to enjoy it and develop my players,” Coach Redmond said. “Right now, we stay positive by taking one day at a time.”
The Warriors opened their season February 22 against Monticello and went up 10-0 at halftime, dominating the ball on both sides of the field. The Mustangs found their footing in the second half, led by quarterback Malachi Fields, and kicked the game into overtime. After early struggles, the Mustangs corrected their offense and defense and finally won, 17-10.
“We are a young roster, but an enthusiastic team,” Coach Redmond said. Shifflett, Tujague, and Toll all made important plays in the Warriors’ battle against rival Monticello.
Western plays its next game at home against Fluvanna County Friday, March 5 at 7 p.m. The Warriors have games slated against Charlottesville, Albemarle, Louisa (at home) and Orange. The regional playoffs are set for early April.