SAKS — Jonathan Miller watches from the middle of the spacious Saks High School weight room, making sure to keep football players spread among their stations.
Meanwhile, other Wildcat groups work next door, in the wrestling room. Two more groups of 12 players work down the hill, on the track and field.
It all seems to run smoothly, after three weeks of summer workouts, but Miller can’t help but worry. Will it all go for naught, as COVID-19 resurges in Alabama and the Alabama High School Athletic Association weighs what to do about approaching fall sports?
“I’m concerned, more so this week than if you’d asked me a week, or so, ago,” said Miller, approaching his ninth year as Saks’ head football coach. “The season, I thought we had a pretty good shot of having it.
“Now, with the rise in cases, I think the next couple of weeks will be interesting to see the effects.”
The AHSAA allowed team activities to resume starting June 1. Summer workouts mark the first allowed team activities since the AHSAA halted spring-sports play in mid-March.
Cases in Alabama spiked to more than 30,000 this week, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. That includes 854 deaths.
Calhoun County has had 208 reported cases and five deaths, at the ADPH’s most recent count.
As the curve rises, high school athletes around the state work out in hopes of having a season. Saks began workouts June 2, and the Wildcats read the news.
“I’m very worried,” said junior Jalen McCants, a second-team Class 1A-3A All-Calhoun County pick at defensive back in 2019. “This is how you want to spend your high school career, seeing those night lights come on, on Friday nights, going out there and doing stuff for the fans, making it somewhere in life with sports.
“It’s going to be hard. I just hope we can at least have a season.”
For the Wildcats’ football team, it’s a summer of hope for improvement. A young Saks team beset by injuries finished 4-5 last season and missed the playoffs, marking the program’s first losing season and playoff miss since 2010.
The Wildcats suffered key losses, including wide receivers Leonta Jones and Kyle Goedde, athlete Zay Elston and lineman Hunter McLeod. All were all-county picks.
Saks returns running back Ricky Garrett and quarterback Shawn Parnell, and Parnell got sooner-than-expected playing time when Roilan Torres suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Anniston Star's Joe Medley took video from this week's off-season workouts at Saks High School:
Donoho transfer Rod Elston, another all-county pick, brings credentials as a running back and defensive back.
“I’ve never seen Rod play,” Miller said. “He looks good in the weight room. He looks athletic. I did see him catch a few passes and things like that before school got out, so I know he’s athletic.
“I’ve never seen him with shoulder pads on, but he’ll fit in nicely and be a big part of our offense.”
That assumes, of course, that a season happens. Like other coaches, Miller can only control following guidelines set by the AHSAA and his school system.
“It’s tough on the high-school level, because we don’t have the capability of mass testing, like the colleges,” Miller said. “That’ll be a little bit tougher on the high school level, but you also don’t want kids to take the virus home to their grandmother.”
The AHSAA is expected to announce an update in July, which could include a decision on whether to have a season. It’s expected to include guidelines on how to handle situations, including athletes or coaches testing positive for COVID-19.
“If someone had the virus, I would think they would need to be quarantined for two weeks,” Miller said. “Obviously, stay out of school and stay away from the team for two weeks.
“I don’t if you want them to have a negative test before they come back and rejoin the team.”