Photo by Jeff Bargas.

Lake Highlands High School Head Football Coach Lonnie Jordan gave his annual update to Exchange Club members last week, but COVID-19 forced the group to forgo their usual trip to Back Country Bar-B-Q and teleconference on Zoom, instead. That begged the question: if there was no brisket and potato salad, did the meeting happen at all?

Jordan, fresh off his fifth year as LHHS athletic coordinator and a bi-district championship in 2019, shared his perspective on high school football in the age of coronavirus.

“This is shaping up to be a crazy year. Everybody’s lives have been turned upside down. Regardless of your experience level, there’s just no precedence for this.”

The father of three, including one 2020 LHHS grad and one rising senior on his Wildcat football team, said his players and coaches are confident and enthusiastic – even during uncertain times.

“Lake Highlands, in particular, has incredible support. We have people behind our kids, our schools, our coaches – and that lends itself to our ability to have success through this. Nevertheless, it has been a difficult road and will continue to be one.”

The pandemic shut down spring football, and later cut short the team’s summer Strength and Conditioning (SAC) program.  No captains have been chosen because the coaches have been unable to assess the players, he said.

“Think about the evaluation process at this point,” explained Jordan. “We don’t know who’s on the JV and who’s on the varsity. We don’t know who’s playing offense and who’s playing defense.”

Dallas County health authorities mandated restrictions on athletic practices, dictating that workouts not resume until in-person school begins Sept. 8.

“There are a lot of teams across the state of Texas [in different counties with different rules] that have the ability to do that,” said Jordan. “They’re having practice every day with their kids. That’s a bit of a stressor, to be perfectly honest with you.”

The UIL released an amended schedule for 5A and 6A, shifting games one month into the future. “At one point this week I thought my phone has a virus,” joked Jordan. “It just starting pinging and ringing and it wouldn’t stop. Everybody wants answers.” The updated schedule is here:

  • Sept. 24 Mesquite High scrimmage
  • Oct. 2 Plano East
  • Oct. 9 Plano High
  • Oct. 16 Bye week
  • Oct. 23 Irving MacArthur
  • Oct. 30 Jesuit
  • Nov. 6 Pearce
  • Nov. 13 Berkner
  • Nov. 20 Irving Nimitz
  • Nov. 27 Richardson High
  • Dec. 4 Irving High

Once practices get going, athletes in all sports will use the campus’ recently completed Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC), which can host indoor workouts, even in sweltering Texas heat.

“I cannot wait to get our kids in there,” said Jordan. “I know they’re really going to love it.”

The Wildcats graduated 10 of 11 defensive starters last year, but senior Mitch Coulson will be back to lead the offense.

“Mitch has the ability to change the outcome of the game,” praised Jordan. “He’s gritty, he’s exciting, and his football IQ is through the roof.”

“We want to raise the bar,” continued Jordan, “and we did that last year. If you want to build winning traditions, you’ve got to win. I know we’ve got a rich history at Lake Highlands, and we want to get back to that. I think our kids understand that. It’s so unfortunate that we are in this pandemic state where we don’t get to see our guys and nurture that, but I know that’s what our kids and our coaches want, and we completely understand that’s what our community wants.”

Today was the original start date for two-a-day summer practices, but the UIL mandated that schools shut down by coronavirus move practices to the first day of school. Trouble is, Collin County isn’t shut down so schools in Plano, Allen and McKinney have been working out as usual. Even Jesuit, back in our District 7-6A after recent realignment, has been hosting practices since religious schools in Dallas County are exempt from such restrictions.

“They’ve got footballs out and whistles out, and they’re working to get better,” Jordan said. “We can’t do that. That’s the concern and the stress that’s on our staff. These guys are all going to have to go play each other. The playing field, at this point, is not level. Keep in mind my non-district schedule is all Collin County schools. Understand, we’re going to go in there and win, but I’ve got to find a way to take 14 days of practice and outdo what Plano and Plano East have done in 11 weeks. The fortunate thing is that our district schedule, which determines playoffs, is all in Dallas County.”

“I just want to be able to play,” said Jordan. “I want the kids at Lake Highlands to be able to show what they can do. A lot of our kids wrap their identity around sports – volleyball, cross country, football. It may be too much, but they are passionate about it. When you take someone’s passion away from them, when you say you can’t do that anymore, our kids battle depression. I want to get them back on the playing field with their coaches and teammates. We’ll do it safely, but I want to get them together.”

“Our kids are going to need support,” continued Jordan. “I can’t wait to put a whistle around my neck and get back around kids. That’s where I want to be.”

Perhaps most challenging of all will be determining who gets to go to the games. Social distancing is likely to mandate that attendance be limited to 50% of the stadium, although that has not yet been determined. Season tickets comprise about 50% of Wildcat Stadium, and LHHS typically sells those out in advance. Some families have owned their season tickets for decades. Add seats for the student body, the band and the drill team – and Wildcats have a problem.

“We want to put families first,” Jordan told me. “We want parents to be able to watch their kids, and we want to make sure students can watch their friends. We’re planning to live stream games so that people can watch at home on their computers. We just don’t know all the answers yet.”

RISD hasn’t released a plan for ticket sales yet, but Jordan said the district is working to find a way to include all interested spectators while keeping the community safe.