Offensive standouts Nate McGlone and Chris James talk about the uncertainty senior student-athletes are going through everywhere. Even if the PIAA rules in their favor on August 21, the 2020 season could be pulled at any time
When Philadelphia 76ers legend Julius Erving announced his retirement after 11 seasons in the NBA, he did it knowing what the Sixers schedule was for the rest of the season.
“Dr. J” said he knew his team would have at least one game left in every NBA City before the end of the regular season.
Erving said he wanted to say goodbye to all the fans in every city who had come out to see him play over the years.
The Hall of Fame forward said he wanted to finish his career leaving “through the front door.”
Erving wanted what millions of high school senior student-athletes across America are looking for right now. They want that special goodbye. They want to walk out through the front door.
Because of THE COVID-19 pandemic, none of them are getting that…at least not right now.
As of press time, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) had not made a final decision on whether there would be sports this fall.
UPDATE: On Friday August 21, 2020 the PIAA ruled that falls sports could proceed with practices starting August 24.
Even if there is a schedule, it is highly unlikely it will include real playoffs, since some townships, such as Norristown, have already called off fall sports because of concerns over the coronavirus.
NESHAMINY PLAYERS AND HEAD COACH SPEAK OUT
“It’s really hard, for the seniors especially,” two-time team captain Chris James said by phone to Footballstories recently. “We put four years into this program and to have this special year, as seniors, we’re not even sure if we are going to get it as we imagined. Even if we don’t get it like that, all the seniors are working their butts off every day to get something. We’re just looking forward to a football season.”
Longtime head coach Steve Wilmot said he is frustrated because he can't get a handle on how the season is going to unfold.
And even if the PIAA gives the green light for a fall sports schedule, a spike in Pennsylvania cases could shut the season down at any time.
“I’m at a loss,” Wilmot said. “I don’t know what’s going on anymore. Lot’s of coaches have said the same thing. Coaches spend the whole offseason planning stuff. My plans for right now were made in January. We start planning our offense. We start planning our defense. We start researching to put these plans in place. Then we get into a situation where I’m lost. Right now, I have no idea what’s going on. Sometimes they talk about playing in the spring, sometimes they talk about not starting until September 14, sometimes you hear we’re not playing at all.”
Wilmot says he knows high school state officials are in a tough spot. College football is not making it easier.
As of press time, the Big Ten Conference and the Pac-12 Conference postponed their fall sports.
The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big 12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC) are going forward with their fall schedules.
The American Athletic Conference (AAC) where Temple plays, is going ahead with its fall schedule.
So, in Pennsylvania, Pitt and Temple are in, Penn State is on the sideline. The PIAA has no precedent to hide behind.
“I know it’s a tough call, I get it,” Wilmot said. “I know they just don’t want to say it’s canceled because I think that the leaders do know the impact it’ll have on our youth. It’s just a tough situation. “I’m not blaming anybody. It is what it is. It’s just really tough being a 16- or 18-year-old right now. My heart goes out to them.”
“I’m 49 years old, I can handle it,” Wilmot said. “My heart really goes out to the 14-, 15-, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kids out there who just have no idea what’s going on. Just the lack of [leadership]…this thing’s been around since last March…just tell us what’s up and go from there.”
Nate McGlone is a senior offensive lineman. He is an outstanding student and is dedicated to the 'Skins football program. This offseason, he grew an inch and packed on about 20 pounds of muscle to bolster an offensive line he hoped was going to help lead Neshaminy back to the playoffs. But the virus had other plans.
McGlone talked about staying positive while looking for PIAA announcements on whether he has a senior season.
“It’s difficult,” the 17-year-old said in a recent phone interview. “Being a senior, it’s a bigger thing. It means a lot to us, to have this season. So until they officially tell us that there will be no season, we’re just hanging on to everything we have, keeping the hope, trying to stay positive and definitely staying ready to go.”
McGlone said he was encouraged to hear Eagles Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz's passionate speech recently encouraging Pennsylvania sports officials to let fall high school sports be played “It was definitely good to see,” McGlone said.
PLAYERS FOUND WAYS TO STICK TOGETHER AND TRAIN
McGlone and James said they had to be creative to get their training in since the school was off limits for all of spring and the start of summer.
“Over the offseason, Neshaminy’s weight program got cut a significant amount of time because of the virus,” McGlone said . “But we’ve been back in the weight room working hard. And even during the offseason, I’ve been sticking with my training, trying to do as much as I can with the weights I have at home. I have a little bench rack and some dumbbells. And I’ve been doing some body workouts too.”
McGlone is now 6-foot-0, 275 pounds. He talks about the process.
“Last year I just focused on just putting on weight,” McGlone said. “I wanted to help myself drive on the O-line. I play against some pretty big dudes. But this offseason I mainly focused on bulking more muscle instead of just putting on weight.”
Wilmot leads the often spirited weight room lifting sessions, often spotting players at the squat racks and bench press stations.
“It was tough,” McGlone said. “Not being in the weight room was a big part of it because, not only were we not with the coaches who know and are more educated about what we’re supposed to be doing to help us get stronger, but not being in the weight room with all the guys lifting together hurt. Lifting together helps us build a stronger bond for the season. It was not an ideal situation, but a lot of us stayed in contact, sending each other our workouts and what we were doing to try and stay together as a team.”
McGlone talked about blocking for 165-pound Chris James.
“I love Chris,” McGlone said. “He’s a great running back. He’s physical, fast, shifty and hits holes hard. He’s not afraid of anybody. It’s a good time. Not only is it fun being out on the field playing for him, just knowing the kind of person he is makes it even more rewarding. Chris is one of the biggest leaders on our team and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Knowing that makes it even better when I’m watching him score touchdowns and do great things for us.”
Wilmot gave high praise to his senior blocker.
“Nate won his job in the offseason before his junior year,’ Wilmot said. “He worked so hard, he really didn’t give us a choice. He was going to start somewhere on our offensive line. He ended up playing our strong tackle position. Another high-character guy. I don’t think Nate’s ever gotten a B on his report card. He’s a straight-A kid with a GPA of 4.5. A high academic, high character kid. And like Chris, he’s a kid everyone on our team looks up to for leadership.”
Wilmot says McGlone has enough size to play in the PSAC (Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference NCAA Division II Bloomsburg, Shippensburg, West Chester).
Both Wilmot and McGlone say Notre Dame is on his mind so college football may not be in his future. Wilmot believes McGlone will have scholarship opportunities for his academics.
McGlone says he is looking to go to college for academics, but he is keeping his options open.
“I have highlight tapes and I were to get scholarship money to play somewhere, I would definitely consider the offers. College is expensive and I love the game of football.”
McGlone knows trying to balance school work and playing a sport at the college level, regardless of division, is a daunting task. He credits Wilmot for making sure players at Neshaminy learn how to budget their time while training.
“That’s one of the things with Neshaminy,” McGlone said. “We do a lot of offseason workouts multiple days a week with practices after lifting, conditioning…trying to stay ready. That’s what coach Wilmot is always preaching. He wants us to get ready to play at the next level, that way when we’re actually there, it’s something that we’re prepared to do. So it’s not a big shock with schoolwork and everything. It won’t be overwhelming.”
James said as soon as Pennsylvania was elevated to green phase, he and several of the quarterbacks and ball handlers on the team would meet at a park to run seven-on-seven drills.
“There were no coaches or anything,” James said. “We wanted to make sure we were ready and make sure we had all our plays down, quarterbacks got their routes down and everything was looking good. “
Every day it seems like another college football conference is shutting down. James said he feels his role as captain is to keep everyone's head in the game.
“Honestly, I just take it day to day,” James said. “I try to keep everything positive. But with everything going on, it’s hard to keep positive. I try to keep my teammates positive. I’m a leader on the team and I want to make sure no one is down, no one is giving up on the season. We could still have a season. If we give up on the season and we still have one, it’s not going to be good luck for anyone at Neshaminy. No matter what, everyone is still giving 100 percent.”
James said Neshaminy coaches were posting online training drills for the players to follow.
“I’ve been doing coach (Chuck) Lumio’s drills,” said James, who is also a standout baseball player for the 'Skins. “He has been conditioning Neshaminy for about three or four years now. I tried to mimic as many drills as I possibly can for him. He’s put videos on YouTube for everyone to watch and make sure everyone’s staying conditioned.”
Coach Wilmot said he is not surprised James took on a coach's role when the pandemic hit.
“Chris is really the heart and soul of the whole football team,” Wilmot said. “He’s an outstanding character kid. One of the hardest working kids on our team. He’s a kid every single player on our team looks up to, whether they’re an incoming ninth-grader or they’re already a senior. He’s just a high character kid and a ton of heart.
“He lays on the line every time he touches the ball and carries it for us...he puts everything he has into that run,” continued Wilmot who says James at 5-7.5, 165 pounds can squat 400 pounds. “He breaks tackles, breaks tackles against kids who are bigger than him. He shows a ton of heart on the football field.”
SENIORS WANT ANOTHER CRACK AT PENNSBURY BEFORE THEY MOVE ON
If you play sports for Neshaminy, the first box you want to check off for season goals is beating Pennsbury.
In 2018, the Redskins went 8-4 and beat Pennsbury 35-7. This past fall, The Falcons returned the favor beating Neshaminy 28-13. The Redskins finished with a disappointing record of 5-5.
“Regardless of when we play, we’re looking to come back stronger than last year,” said McGlone, who lists Indianapolis Colts All Pro guard as his favorite NFL player. “We struggled a lot last year because we didn’t have much experience. This year we’re coming back with a lot of offensive starters. We’re losing Brodie (McAndrew) and Ian (Sheehan), but we’re looking to make up for that with a strong O-line and running game. We have a strong quarterback battle going on between Aiden Schlupp and Nunzio Zydzik plus receivers Gavin O'Connor and Dylan Bove are returning."
James is a good baseball player as well. If the football season is moved to the spring, he would have some decisions to make. Baseball or football? “I don’t know how that would go,” James said.
“We went 5-5 last year and lost to Pennsbury,” said James, who lists former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy as his favorite NFL player. “I feel like everyone on the team has a reason to step up and prove everyone wrong and show everyone how good we can be and how good we are. I know once we get to practice and get to working on our plays, it’s going to come together real fast. I just can’t wait to get back out there and start practicing.
“I feel like we’re physically ready,” James continued. “I feel like it’s a mental thing now. With all the news that’s going on around the place, people hearing fake news, or real news…no one knows what’s going on. If I can keep everyone together and everyone can keep the same head on, we’re going to be very good this year.”
James and his teammates hope they get the chance to prove it *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii