COVID-19 has already forced Eldon to miss some practice time already this summer, but the team simply has to carry on as best as it can and soak up every part of the season any team in Missouri is granted.
Natural grass, the sounds of whistles and pads colliding and that familiar water tower that says, “Home of the Mustangs” overlooking the landscape.
During any typical year, this could simply describe a football practice at Eldon. In 2020, it has become a refuge for Mustang football players in the middle of a worldwide pandemic.
“Once we get out here, it is just more about the football. That is kind of why we love this out here, it is a sanctuary for us that we get away from everything else,” Eldon coach Chad Hult said.
“It brings everybody closer together. I mean, you are in this close proximity no matter what, but at this time it is about the only time you can be close to somebody else so I think it really brings out the brotherhood more and more.”
Not that the program is oblivious to the current state of reality. COVID-19 has already forced Eldon to miss some practice time already this summer, but the team simply has to carry on as best as it can and soak up every part of the season any team in Missouri is granted.
“It is a little different and something me and my staff talk about every day. Instead of plan A and B, you have to have plan A through Z right now so it takes a little more planning and you just have to roll with the punches as they come,” Hult pointed out.
Eldon senior P.J. Bledsoe, like so many other high school athletes, had to learn that lesson the hard way this past spring as he was eagerly looking forward to his junior year of track and field only to see it abruptly ripped away.
“Since this is my senior year I’m just trying to, like Coach Hult always says, finish every play because you never know when it is going to be your last,” the senior remarked. “I’m hoping we have a season but I cannot really take anything for granted. Senior year, I hope to get anything we can done on the field this year.”
Missing the final few months of being at school last year, Bledsoe is also enjoying every opportunity to be with his teammates, even playing pickup games just to recapture that sense of brotherhood. His high school career started off with a bang as the Mustangs won a district title in 2017 and made it to sectionals. He is hoping to leave the program in a good place, just as good as when he found it.
“It would mean everything because I just want to get one season in,” the senior said of getting to play a full season. “The last few years besides my freshman year have been pretty rough for us so I’m trying to put everything I can into leading these younger generations and get them back to where we were, in district championships.”
The program has made a few alterations to try and ensure a football season will actually be completed. Hult emphasizes sanitation and following CDC guidelines to his players and the team is weightlifting in smaller groups than it normally would be to keep any gathering indoors to a minimum. That is why the team tries to stay outside as much as possible.
“We try to talk about a bigger picture each day, kind of explain world views and everything that is going on to them as best we can,” the coach said.
“It is more about ways to accommodate our sport more than anything while still being able to be productive out there.”
Well, only time will tell what the fall has in store. Bledsoe never imagined a virus being part of his journey when he was among his teammates holding up a district title plaque that fall evening as a freshman, but regardless of what happens he has enjoyed the journey.
“I just want to thank them for everything they’ve done for me through my middle and high school career,” the senior said of his time with the football program. “They’ve pushed me to be the best I can and it has made me a great young man. That is why I am going to pursue it in college, too.”
Football certainly has that potential and for everyone, Hult said a full season may just be exactly what the area needs.
“I think it would be great. I think it would be big for our community, I think it would be big for our kids and I think it would be big for everyone to get back to normal again,” he noted. “Right now, we don’t know what normal is and everyone talks about the new normal. Well, until we actually get back to normal who knows what that is going to be.”
Editor's Note: This is the final story in a four-part series focusing on how the football programs at Osage, Camdenton, Versailles and Eldon have handled summer activities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the number of people involved in any football program, the sport may be a good microcosm for how well sports can operate during the pandemic.