Football commences season six months late

Malia Wanderer, Sports Editor

Football players jog down the Palo Alto High School football field to warm up for practice. According to Nelson Gifford, head football coach and athletic director, the composition of the team is different than in previous years. “We definitely have smaller participation numbers … but we’re excited about the crew that’s out there,” Gifford said. “The vast majority of the team is going to be the 11th and 10th graders, and I’m good with that. It’s going to give them a chance to play varsity football and then carry that experience immediately into next year.” Photo: Malia Wanderer

After a 16-month break since its last official game in Viking Stadium, the Palo Alto High School varsity football team is finally beginning its long-delayed 2020-2021 season and will play its first home game this weekend.

The Vikings played their first league game against Wilcox High School last week on Friday, losing 56-28. According to junior Josh Butler, who plays running back and free safety, the score isn’t representative of the team’s abilities.

“Overall, the game was an amazing learning experience,” Butler stated in a message to The Paly Voice. “While the score was not what we had hoped it to be, the score was definitely not a good indicator on how close the game actually was. We suffered badly after our QB [quarterback] Danny Peters went out, but it was a game that we can definitely take a lot from.”

According to Nelson Gifford, head coach and athletic director, this year’s unusual circumstances have changed his perspective on the season.

“We’re obviously always trying to compete and try to play at our best, but there’s definitely a huge emphasis on making sure everyone has an opportunity to develop and have as much fun as possible,” Gifford said. “Not that we don’t try to have fun normally, but just make that [having fun] a real piece to try to make sure that our seniors are able to get the most out of this opportunity.”

Due to the shifts in athletic guidance over the past six months, the football team has only been able to practice on-and-off. According to Gifford, while the Vikings have had an extra long preseason, the discontinuity of practices and lack of contact play has been an issue.

“I really want to see what we can do in terms of our teaching and coaching, and being able to adjust our practice schedules to adjust for the lack of physical training that we had leading up to the season,” Gifford said. “And trying to see how I and the rest of the coaching staff can make adjustments to accommodate the athletes in the circumstance that they’re in and be creative in our approach.”

With many players not returning due to COVID-19 concerns, the Vikings will field a smaller and younger team this year. However, according to Butler, the team makes up for having less experience with many strong points.

“We are a young, fast team,” Butler stated. “We have a commanding offense. … When we work together, we can really get the ball moving, and that is very cool to see out of such a young group of guys.”

The football season is shorter than all other sports seasons due to the required hard cut-off date in mid-April to allow players to rest before a new season begins in August. According to Gifford, next year’s quickly approaching seasons adds to the elements making this year drastically different for Paly football.

“We’ll finish our season, April 16,” Gifford said. “We’ll play again in August. We’ll have four months, more or less. That’s a fast turnaround, faster than I’ve ever experienced. So all of that has really made me change my approach to the season.”

The Vikings will play against Mountain View at 7 p.m. Saturday.