Columbia, Duval counties plan for delayed football starts

Duval to kick off football games Sept. 11, Columbia eyes late September start to games

Menendez tight end Dakota Matthews (27) catches a long pass over the Englewood secondary Friday night. Menendez won the game 59-28. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools will allow sports teams to begin practicing on Aug. 24 but will not hold its opening week of football games until Sept. 11, while Columbia County will take a measured path back to competition, coaches said on Tuesday.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted on Aug. 14 to green light the start of sports practices on Aug. 24 and permitted the first week of games to be held starting on Sept. 4, both against the advice of its own sports medicine advisory committee. Since then, school districts have been tailoring starts to what works best for them.

Duval County opted to allow its teams to play football games the week after, Sept. 11, to better allow for more practice time. Columbia County will permit practices to begin Sept. 7.

Sandalwood coach Adam Geis said that teams are ready to play after having spring football wiped out by COVID-19 and have to be as safe as possible to ensure some type of a season for players.

“We’re ready to play kids are eager, very excited not sure anyone around here is what you’d call ready, excited to get to play again one week of practice or four we’re just ready to play again,” Geis said.

“That is the most important thing. All joking aside, we have a date to practice, we have a date to play and they said that we can play. A lot of people out there who have no chance, we have a shot, we have a chance.”

In Columbia County, coach Brian Allen said that the Tigers in Lake City were going to follow the recommendation of the sports medicine advisory committee — advice that the FHSAA board ignored for a second time — and push the start of their season back.

The SMAC suggested waiting until schools had reopened and students were back on campuses to determine if it was safer for sports to resume. Allen said that’s the path he preferred and he was grateful that the school district heard his concerns. Allen, who lost an assistant coach this offseason to COVID-19, said that his team will start offseason conditioning on Aug. 24 and likely practice in mid-September. He’s hopeful that the Tigers will be clear for a game at Trinity Christian on Sept. 25.

“I even considered to opt-out [of coaching], but in all fairness, I want to give my kids a chance. I don’t want to quit on them at a point where I didn’t even try,” Allen said. “The way we’re doing it was the only way. I’m glad that my school district agreed with it and was on board with that, the recommendation of the SMAC. We’re going to try and do it as careful as possible these first three to four weeks.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.