JMA football

Rising JMA seniors Landen Burney (right) and Amaad Foston (left) take their turns in the sandpit Wednesday during team summer workouts while coaches Steven Franklin and Billy Whitlock look on.

The road to a possible football state championship repeat began Monday when the John Milledge Academy Trojans hit the weight room.

Last week marked the start of summer workouts that have a very different look to them due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The No. 1 thing is we’ve had to be smart,” JMA head coach JT Wall said. “We would normally bring all our guys in here together and work them out a good two, two and a half hours. Now we have them broken up into four different groups and then we break each one of those groups into two. The guys are pumped up. They always show up early. Our first group was supposed to start at 7:30 a.m. Monday but we had kids here before 7 o’clock. They’re chomping at the bit.”

Groups of about 16 are coming onto campus for an hour at a time. Upon arrival, coaches check players’ temperatures and ask screening questions in an effort to keep the virus away from team facilities. Reporters are subject to the temperature check and quick questionnaire as well. Wall said the guidelines put in place for his program mirror those for summer day camps across the state. 

Once players pass the screening, they are split up into two smaller groups with one heading to the weight room while the other goes down to the sandpit for a grueling workout with speed coach Steven Franklin. 

The Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) has taken an entirely different approach to summer workouts than the Georgia High School Association (GHSA). Wall said the GISA is allowing its members to handle workouts how and when they please since they are independent schools. The GHSA on the other hand, has told its schools that they could not begin workouts until Monday, June 8, and even then under pretty heavy restrictions. 

“That’s the beauty of having independent schools,” said the JMA head coach. “We’re trying to be as smart about it as we can, but we know that life must go on and we must start getting back to some sort of normal.”

Many GHSA schools, including Baldwin High School, are choosing to wait a while to begin voluntary summer workouts to give more time to implement those mandated measures or wait until the spread of the virus decreases. 

Wall has closed his team’s locker room so players cannot hang around and access to the water fountains in the team field house is restricted. Most players bring their own jugs of water to hydrate during the workouts. The team weight room, featuring an all-new look and equipment, is wiped down between each of the four groups

“We’re trying to abide by everything we need to in order to have a safe season,” Wall said. “The one thing we don’t want to do in June or July is something to affect August and the start of school.”

The Trojans won the 2019 GISA AAA state championship after posting a perfect 13-0 record, giving the program its second title ever and also its second in the last four years. With a massive junior turned senior class returning they look to be the odds-on favorite to get back to the big game at Mercer University as long as the season goes on without a hitch. Spring sports seasons were cancelled as the coronavirus became more and more prevalent across the state.

“The last thing we heard from GISA last week was they are planning on fall starting full steam ahead,” said Wall, who doubles as John Milledge’s athletic director. “I think that’s what everybody wants to hear. But if we’ve learned anything these last two and a half to three months it’s that we don’t know what the future holds. We’ve got to be prepared to change and adapt, but we’re planning on kicking off the season right here against Brentwood Aug. 28.”

Before that season opener, the Trojans are scheduled to host Mount De Sales, a GHSA school, for a preseason scrimmage Aug. 13. 

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