Liberty High School football players lock arms during a 2019 game. The school was forced to start their season on Oct. 3 due to coronavirus concerns. (Courtesy of Bill Leicht)

Lehigh Valley football teams grapple with coronavirus challenges

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Football is a proud tradition in the Lehigh Valley — not just at the college level at Lehigh and Lafayette, but at high schools across the area as well.

At these schools, players prepare for years looking forward to their time in the spotlight. The COVID-19 pandemic has posed its challenges, but local high schools are still doing whatever they can to ensure football players have a shot at that experience.

This past summer, offseason preparation and training camps were far from normal. Teams were granted limited access to summer workouts and no training camp scrimmages. Through the opening weeks of the season, COVID outbreaks have forced temporary shutdowns of football at Saucon Valley, Whitehall, Northwestern Lehigh, Parkland and Southern Lehigh high schools.

“We have been working out in some fashion since July 20, and it has been a roller coaster,” Parkland head coach Tim Moncman said. “We had no scrimmages, plus the first game was canceled. Then we were shut down for a week. So really just not knowing day-to-day what will happen.” 

Due to positive cases at the school, Parkland had to wait until Oct. 9 to play its first game — a 41-24 win — a month and a half after they were supposed to start the season on Aug. 28. According to The Morning Call, the Trojans are the No. 9 ranked team in the Class 6A state rankings after their win. 

Schools have had to adhere to various procedures in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus. Whitehall coach Matt Senneca said these pose some challenges, particularly his team not being permitted to have no more than 25 players inside at once. These necessary precautions have made day-to-day operations a challenge, Senneca said.

 “Doing film and all of that stuff at the high school level is different because you don’t have the resources of meeting rooms and multiple projectors like you do in college,” Senneca said. “We’ve been doing the best we can with that, but it’s a challenge for sure.”

Whitehall is 1-2 on the season with a 49-7 victory over Louis E. Dieruff (Allentown) and losses to Allentown Central Catholic and Parkland. The school was home to New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley as well as former Lehigh quarterback standout Nick Shafnisky.

 Without a sufficient amount of game film due to the cancellation of some games, Senneca said he and other coaches have had to rely on game film from previous years. 

Senneca said he did not have any game film on Parkland’s team from 2020 and had to use old film.

“That makes preparation a big of a challenge, but with the way the year is going, I’m just glad the kids are able to play,” Senneca said. 

Offseason restrictions and recent shutdowns have made staying in shape physically and mentally a struggle for players. With a lack of access to weight rooms, players are forced to improvise, working out however they can. 

Liberty High School linebacker Jack Rothenhausler has made it a point to remain active and take necessary precautions to protect his teammates and coaches. Rothenhausler starts at middle linebacker for the Hurricanes in addition to being a standout pitcher on the baseball team. Unable to start games until Oct. 3 due to coronavirus concerns, Liberty has started off the abbreviated season 0-2.

“I am being proactive and trying to do a lot of things to stay in shape,” Rothenhausler said. “I’ve been running and working out while also texting my coaches with questions on film that we get. Most importantly, just trying to stay healthy, not being around too many people to ensure we have a season.” 

Despite a bevy of challenges, Lehigh Valley football is alive for now. Moncman is especially happy that Parkland’s seniors have the chance to play this season. 

Moncman praised his players for their mental toughness and character in the face of adversity.

“Our players, especially the seniors, have been amazing for us,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind this experience will make them more successful in life because of how I’ve watched them persevere through this.”

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