The Scottsboro and North Sand Mountain football teams participate in an 11-on-11 workout last summer during the final week before the official start of the 2019 preseason football practice on the first Monday in August. Starting in 2021, if high school football programs don't hold spring practice, the AHSAA will permit them to begin preseason practice a week earlier.

Spring practice has been a high school football tradition for decades, giving teams a jump start on the upcoming season that follows a few months later.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic that forced schools to close for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year canceled all remaining sports and sports-related activities, including spring football practice. 

But starting in 2021, it could be the football programs themselves that are putting off spring practice.

The AHSAA recently passed a proposal that gives all fall sports (cross country, football, volleyball and swimming) the option to pass on holding spring evaluation/practice in exchange for beginning official preseason practice a week earlier in the fall.For football teams, that would mean giving up 10 spring practice dates to start practice on the “Monday before the first Monday in August.” The proposal passed 22-10.

Head football coaches in Jackson County have varying opinions on the new option.

Scottsboro coach Don Jacobs said his teams will continue to hold spring practice.

“There’s so many questions you need to answer before you get to the summer,” Jacobs said. “With a spring, you get a chance to see them in pads, so then in the summer, we’re going to know where everybody fits. (Without spring), you have to teach a guy two positions, and you may get to the fall and realize they’re not an offensive guy or not a defensive guy. Then you’ve wasted reps that could’ve benefited somebody else.”

Jacobs said he does see how passing on spring practice would benefit smaller schools in which more of their football players play spring sports.

“At a small school, that’d be a perfect situation when you got guys in (spring sports),” said Jacobs, whose team had only two players on its roster that played baseball and nine that competed in track and field last season. “In our case, we’ve got most of our guys, and our track guys missed only a couple of days to go to Gulf Shores for state. So for us, we would go (in the) spring. But I see it for the small schools.”

North Jackson coach Chandler Tygard said he foresees the Chiefs passing up spring drills in 2021 to start earlier in the fall because most of their football players play baseball or compete in track and field.

“We’ll probably pass on (spring practice) going forward,” Tygard said. “Just about all of our guys play baseball. Our baseball team is always good and we want them to go as far as they can, and you don’t want to have to do spring without all your guys.”

Section coach Chris Hammon said teams that play a Week 0 game in the regular season may opt to bypass spring and start preseason practice earlier.

“That’s a factor to me. We play Week 0, so I think it’s a plus to skip spring and get that extra week of prep time before the first game,” said Hammon, whose team is scheduled to play a Week 0 game the next two seasons. “If we don’t have a Week 0 game, I probably have spring (practice). But I think having a Week 0 game is a big factor (to consider).”

Passing up on spring practice will mean teams will lose a spring scrimmage game, which is a dealbreaker to Pisgah coach Luke Pruitt.

 “I don’t want to lose that spring game, because that’s one less (in-game) opportunity for evaluation,” Pruitt said. “I feel like that’s more important for us than the extra days (in the fall).”

Tygard is hopeful the AHSAA might considering give teams an extra scrimmage game in the fall should they pass on spring. North Sand Mountain head coach Keith Kirby said that would make skipping spring practice more enticing to programs.

“You don’t make a lot of money on spring games,” Kirby said, “but you do make some. So it’d hurt some if you didn’t have one.”

Kirby remains undecided about what NSM will do going forward, adding how not having spring practice heading into the 2020 season because of COVID-19 pandemic could help coaches determine which option they chose in future years.

“We’ll just wait and see how it goes,” Kirby said. “We’ll weigh the positives and negatives. If feel like the way we use the spring is beneficial, but we’ll see how it goes this fall and make a decision.”

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