Putting in the work on and off the field

Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, football has been implementing mandatory player calls to further strengthen their chemistry, recruit players for the upcoming season and increase fundraising methods.  

In the past few years, football had two teams: varsity and frosh. Because of the increased amount of student athletes expressing interest, the head coaches created an additional team this year: junior varsity. There are currently 27 freshmen players and around 70 returning players that will be participating this year.

“Our biggest problem is we lacked the numbers. The junior varsity level is really important in that it prepares some of those sophomores or even juniors who need more repetitions or game experience. Because we haven’t had that for the last couple of years,” football head coach Eric Peralta said. “This is going to allow some of those kids to develop their skills and their football knowledge a little bit more before they move on to varsity.”

Before the regular football season, football players would attend a team building retreat which primarily  emphasized player chemistry and weightlifting. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they had to change their plans to online Google Meet and Zoom calls, during which they emulate what they would normally do at camp. At the moment, football is focusing on improving their offense, defense and special teams during these constructive calls.

“I think the gratifying moment is when we have 95 players in a zoom meeting, and all of them are working hard. You know they’re working hard, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Peralta said. “Another part is the kids wanting to be there, wanting to work hard even though given the current situation.”

In addition to online calls, all players have been bodybuilding and strength training with the assistance of the football coaches in preparation for the start of the season. Players complete various workouts and review different offensive and defensive aspects of the game by watching films from previous games.

“When it comes to football, one of the biggest components is strength and conditioning. We cannot ignore strength and conditioning because we are a very physical sport. We have to make sure that our athletes are prepared,” Peralta said. “We need to build speed, strength and agility. All of those things are the underlying basis of what we do. That’s why it’s very important that we focus on the strength and conditioning piece.”

Athletes, along with the coaches, have been reviewing film of previous games of the season. During these film sessions, athletes listen to coaches explain different techniques such as footwork, hand placement and positioning on the field.

“Reviewing film is not different than a teacher reviewing a test after a kid took it in class. Basically, you know, a kid says ‘I made a mistake on that, I will correct that next time.’ Watching film is the same thing, except that you actually get to see the physical mistakes that you have,” Peralta said. “Whether it’s missed hand placement or shoulder placement on this step of this route against this angle, you get to see those kinds of things on film. It’s extremely important for growth.”

Athletes take away more than just learning how to run faster, catch the ball faster or positioning. They learn about life, how to treat other people, what it means to be an adult, being responsible for their actions, making the right decisions and overall, how to be a better person.

“We teach them all the things that you really need to take with you after you leave high school and become an adult. It goes further beyond just the X’s and O’s,” Peralta said. “The biggest thing, like I said, is our purpose — to make a positive impact on the lives of these kids.”

Once the school district allows student athletes and coaches to return to the field to start practicing, players will have to adhere to strict health guidelines regarding equipment sanitation and social distancing. After training equipment such as free weights, player padding and sleds have been used, they have to be properly cleaned and wiped down to lessen the risk of viral infection. Players must also wear a face mask and plan their weight usage accordingly, as only two players will have access to the same equipment at all times.

“Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, [the season] isn’t going to happen.’ I’m positive that the season will happen. I’m pretty optimistic that we can follow proper protocols in terms of safety and social distancing,” Peralta said. “By making sure we have our masks, making sure we know we’re checking all those boxes to make sure that when we come back, we can do it in a safe manner so that we continue on with.”

Fundraising has been changed to adapt to the current situation. In addition to selling the current mustang spirit wear gear, athletes will also be selling face masks with the Walnut High School logo, selling coupon books for the Citadel shopping mall and asking family members or friends for donations to the program. Each athlete will be trying to get $350 in donation or sales for the program.

“We basically lost lots of potential fundraising revenue in the spring. So, we’re trying to be as creative as possible to raise as much money as possible, to help fund our program,” Peralta said.

Walnut High School has been moved to a football only league called the Hacienda League which consists of Diamond Bar, Ontario and Nogales High School.

“This season is going to be a lot more meaningful, since there will be less games than the last regular season of the year. That’s going to be really intense and exciting. We want to be able to be the first team in our league to call ourselves league champions. We want to make a deep playoff run. We want to win a title. That’s what we’re going to be working towards,” Peralta said. “But overall the goal is that we want to be successful. We want to win some football games, but the overall goal is to make a positive impact on these kids and on our campus in our community.”

By Samuel Au, Feature editor
Photo courtesy of Walnut Football