Spring practice 2019

Watauga football coach Ryan Habich talks to the 2019 Pioneers at the end of spring practice.

BOONE — It’s no secret that the Watauga football team has to rebuild for the 2020 season.

The Pioneers, which won its second straight Northwestern Conference championship in 2019 and finished the season with a 13-1 record, was a senior dominated team. But seniors graduate and the next class of players are needed to replace them.

Watauga coach Ryan Habich knows that a relatively inexperienced group of athletes will need plenty of work to get to that elite level of play. What the Pioneers, including Habich, did not know is that the COVID-19 virus would put their plans to build for 2020 on hold.

Watauga, along with all prep football programs, are waiting for April 6. That’s when the North Carolina High School Athletic Association board will decide whether to continue a ban of all high school athletic activities, or lift the ban.

For Watauga’s football team, that means spring practice will be in May. It means the Pioneers can lift weights under a coach’s supervision and they can carry on with summer workouts.

“All of that is kind of on the back burner right now,” Habich said of spring football.

The Pioneers’ offseason actually began in January with weight lifting and carried into April. Watauga also did speed conditioning during the mornings of the offesason.

To gain strength and conditioning during the recent ban, Habich said the coaching staff sent the players workout instructions they could do at home. He said the Pioneers are not alone in doing that.

“It’s an adjustment period that all of us are going through,” he said. “Coaches are always in a routine, whether they are spring workouts or if they are in the fall, you have a routine of doing things. On the flipside, coaches are used to having to make adjustments, and this is a huge adjustment.”

It’s not the first time Habich has had to adjust to adverse circumstances. In the 2019 season, the Pioneers had to make an adjustment of losing leading ground-gainer Bryce Satterfield from the 2018 season. The Pioneers moved Jake Watson from tight end to running back and worked on a group of players to take over the tight end position.

But Satterfield returned to Boone and Watson was moved back to tight end. Later in the season, Satterfield injured his knee and was lost for the season, which meant Watson moved back to running back.

But both players had experienced players around them on offense. Anderson Castle was entering his third season as the starting quarterback, and Jaiden Bond was entering his third season as a starter at wingback.

The Pioneers had three veterans along their offensive line, including senior center Sterling Sauls.

This season, a group of young players must replace those seniors and Habich feels they could use the extra time on the field.

“There is so much into the preparation for football,” Habich said. “It puts you back as far as training-wise. We’re fortunate that we have the resources in Watauga County. Kids have laptops and internet and wifi ability where they can work out at home. When they’re not in the weight room, they’re working out together and pushing each other.”

Habich feels the frustration of not being allowed to work with his players, but also understands the reasons why. He said the overall health of his players and their families is more important than practicing football, but knows the Pioneers are not alone.

“As we tell our kids, we have to control the controllables and right now there isn’t a whole lot anyone in our country can control,” Habich said. “We just have to do our part.”

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