Kennedy Catholic and Eastside Catholic were originally scheduled to meet in a nationally televised football game on Friday. It would have featured a pair of five-star prospects — Kennedy Catholic quarterback Sam Huard and Eastside Catholic defensive tackle J.T. Tuimoloau — angling for Washington prep supremacy on ESPN.
Instead, high school football in the state of Washington has been postponed until the spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And Huard and Tuimoloau have turned into teammates.
On Monday, Student-Athletes of Washington (SAW) — a group formed by Huard, Tuimoloau, Kennedy Catholic wide receiver (and Arizona State commit) Junior Alexander, Kennedy Catholic wide receiver Reed Shumpert, Mount Si running back Cole Norah, Archbishop Murphy defensive end (and Virginia commit) Josh McCarron, O’Dea quarterback Milton Hopkins Jr., Lakes athlete Jaedon Hall, Garfield athlete Leon Neal Jr. and North Creek offensive guard (and Utah commit) Kolinu’u Faaiu — published a petition urging Gov. Jay Inslee and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to reinstate traditional fall sports schedules in the state. The group was organized by Tracy Ford, CEO of the Ford Sports Performance training facility in Bellevue.
As of Wednesday afternoon, that petition had garnered more than 24,500 signatures.
And at 4 p.m. on Thursday, SAW will hold a public march outside the capitol building in Olympia.
“With my teammates, not just on my team but in all these schools in the state that work so hard for their teams and want that opportunity (to play), they need a season just as much as I want a season,” Huard, a UW 2021 commit, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “I feel we’ve all put in a lot of work and we deserve to go fight for this.”
Of course, it’s unclear whether that fight will have the intended effect. After all, the vast majority of Washington state high schools have adopted a remote learning model this fall as a further precaution against the continued coronavirus pandemic. There have been 74,939 confirmed cases and 1,931 deaths due to COVID-19 in the state of Washington, as of Aug. 31. Of that total, 19,698 cases and 728 deaths have come in King County.
But the petition also states that repercussions of a postponed fall sports season include “youth depression, more volatile situations at home due to our parents trying to balance work with children at home, increased stress on single parent households, and the inability, especially for those of us where finances are a daily struggle, to potentially earn a college scholarship.”
Which begs the question: are extracurricular activities an unnecessary risk, or a vital outlet for high school athletes across the state?
“We were made aware of the petition after it went public on Monday,” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said in a statement on Wednesday. “We all want our students participating and the WIAA is ready when we are given clearance from the Governor’s Office and the Department of Health. Many assume the WIAA has the authority to make the decision but it appears our students have identified where that authority rests.
“We also know the Governor’s Office and the DOH are working to keep all citizens healthy and safe. We have been told they will review the latest recommendation to not support extracurricular activities until schools are beyond online learning this fall. In the interim, we will continue to provide ideas and opportunities for coaches to interact with students to support their mental health and to provide guidance so students are physically prepared to begin.”
But when will that beginning ultimately be? The WIAA initially announced the reorganization of its athletics calendar from three sports seasons to four shorter sports seasons on July 21. That moved football — as well as girls and small-school boys soccer and volleyball — to Season 3, which runs from March 1 to May 2. Football practice is allowed to start Feb. 17.
Even so, Huard isn’t convinced a spring football season will ever actually occur.
“I’m not going to lie: I’m a little hesitant about if we’re actually going to be able to make it work in the spring,” said Huard, whose Kennedy Catholic Lancers continue to participate in strength and conditioning workouts three times per week in groups of five or fewer. “Personally, deciding to stay in the spring (and not enroll early at UW) and be able to play football, I know how bad it would feel to get to that point and then have it canceled.
“I think the other main reason (I’m fighting for a fall season) is for my teammates, because I want to make sure that they’ll have an opportunity — especially the guys that have been working so hard and don’t have that opportunity to play college football yet and were really hoping for this senior season to allow themselves to get that opportunity. They’ve just been putting in a lot of work. I know how much this senior season means to me. It just feels a lot more realistic to play in the fall.”
Of course, a fall football season is already a reality in many states. According to MaxPreps, Washington is one of 16 states that has pushed prep football to the winter or spring. The other 34 states continue to move forward with a fall football schedule.
The question, ultimately, hinges on whether local health authorities believe they can keep their athletes safe.
But Huard says that decision should also rest with each individual family.
“If an athlete feels unsafe or they don’t want to put them or their family at risk — if their parents don’t want them playing or their grandparents don’t want them playing — then they have every right to not do so,” Huard said. “But as we’ve seen on social media these past couple days, as we’ve seen with this petition we released two days ago that already has over 22,000 signatures, there’s enough people that really want to try to make this work.
“You hear the term ‘risk versus reward.’ Every time you step on the field there’s a risk. They have an ambulance sitting there on the track at every game. It’s a physical contact sport. It’s a risk no matter what. I feel that at the end of the day, yes, the only way we can do this is if we’re safe. If we really felt that we wouldn’t be safe doing this and trying to make it work, then we wouldn’t be doing it.”
For Huard — the latest in a local football family that includes former UW and NFL QBs Damon and Brock Huard — a potential fall football season also affects his enrollment at UW. If his senior season stays in the spring, Huard said he’d likely choose to play at Kennedy Catholic rather than enrolling early at UW (though, he added, “it’s still kind of up in the air”). Should a fall high school football season somehow be salvaged, Huard said he would “100%” enroll at UW in January.
Two other high-profile prospects in the state — Lincoln outside linebacker and USC commit Julien Simon and Bethel linebacker and UW commit Will Latu — previously announced they will skip their senior seasons to enroll early at their school of choice.
The timing puts college recruiters and overlooked athletes in a potentially precarious position as well. The traditional signing period for Division I and II football is currently set between Feb. 3 and April 1 — before the spring season in Washington state would be scheduled to conclude. Brandon Huffman, the national recruiting editor for 247Sports, previously told The Times that window could eventually be extended to allow coaches more time to evaluate college prospects.
But the most appealing option — at least, for SAW — remains a return to high school football in the fall.
And Huard is hoping that Thursday’s march is another step toward a more traditional senior season.
“I’m really hoping that a lot of people are there (on Thursday), because I know this does mean a lot to a lot of people,” he said. “There’s an argument that, ‘You should be worrying about your health more than sports.’ But at the end of the day, it’s about a lot more than just playing football. It’s the team aspect. It’s overcoming challenges with each other, growing together, learning. It teaches you valuable life lessons. There’s really no experience like it.
“We’re really excited (about Thursday’s march). I think a lot of people are really excited. We’re doing all we can and hopefully this Thursday will be a big success.”