The afternoon of Aug. 19 was a breath of fresh air for Newman Smith head football coach Paul Ressa, who joined his players on the high school’s new practice field for the first time in over a month for the resumption of summer workouts.
The Trojans, along with Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD bunkmates Creekview and R.L. Turner, had their respective offseasons put on hold in mid-July following a Dallas County health order that stipulated that school-sponsored activities such as sports couldn’t take place until after in-person instruction began on Sept. 8.
Later in the month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton penned a letter that said school districts, not local health authorities, should decide when to open their schools. With Dallas County and Tarrant County among those who issued postponements, various school districts heeded Paxton’s guidance and adjusted their schedules accordingly.
Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD did the same, issuing the green light for Aug. 19 to be the first day workouts could resume in preparation for the 2020 season.
“The coaches were talking about all the negativity you felt just kind of went away and we finally got a little bit of normalcy just getting back out there. It felt good,” said Jay Cline, Creekview head coach.
Ressa felt that same energy with the Trojans, drawing upon a Latin phrase used over the summer by Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers — “Nunc Coepi” — which doubles as the team’s mantra this year, to help work through an all too unique offseason.
“It means ‘now I begin’ and it’s a great time to break this out for the kids because everything is new,” Ressa said. “All the bad stuff that has happened, we forget about it and can start over. We have a new district, a new practice field with beautiful turf. We have a lot of new things going, so we’re going to start from this point going forward and now I begin.”
Meanwhile, Turner looks to make up for lost time under new head coach Michael Farda Jr., whose interactions with his players had already been limited prior to the temporary shutdown.
“The kids I’ve been in contact with are obviously hungry. The few interactions we were able to have during our summer pride sessions before the sanctions prevented us from those face-to-face interactions, all of them were very positive as far as climate and culture,” Farda said. “We’re excited about the opportunities to play, so building off of that is a priority and taking advantage of that to where kids are anxious to return and are fired up and are ready to practice.”
Cline said his team will begin fall practices Sept. 8, one day after the UIL’s official start date for Class 5A and 6A football programs. Cline noted that circumstances haven’t afforded his program a typical evaluation period for personnel, heightening the importance of the coming month — starting with the Mustangs’ Sept. 24 scrimmage against Irving.
As the C-FB ISD trio stack up workout sessions in advance of Sept. 8, Ressa said the focus will be getting kids back in shape and weathering any time lost for physical development. The upshot of the time away from the practice field, however, is that Smith appears to be ahead of schedule drilling the mental side of their preparations.
“Our install has been tremendous on both sides of the ball. Our coaches were able to throw some things at the kids and they were able to remember from their Zoom meetings and their clinics,” Ressa said. “Now we’re right on track. We might be behind athletically and being in shape because we haven’t been able to be together, but football IQ-wise I think we’re right there.”
Ressa praised the work of his coaching staff in helping accelerate that process. With teams tasked with navigating the offseason without a normal set of resources, the Trojans had to think outside the box and adopt different teaching methods for disseminating information to their student-athletes. Technology was vital for the program, be it installing a scheme or building a culture, and Ressa is confident in the progress made during the summer.
“I really think this pandemic has helped the Newman Smith coaching staff,” he said. “We had to figure out new ways and teach that ‘why’ without the stressors of having a game to prepare for next week. We were able to slow things down and teach, and the coaches have done one heck of a job.”
It’s helped instill a welcome sense of normalcy as workouts resumed last week — a reprieve from the state of limbo the programs were in previously. They weren’t alone, with the bulk of their respective districts impacted as well.
Smith and Turner will compete in 6-5A Division I for football this season alongside six other Dallas ISD programs, while Creekview, now in 4-5A Div. II, is joined by six Fort Worth ISD schools and Grapevine — all of whom are located in Tarrant County.
“It seems like I’ve probably made 10 different calendars since we’ve started. It was stressful, but I think we’re good now,” Cline said. “… We went from all of us going Sept. 8 and then they extended to Sept. 27 and it changed again. it’s been a little hectic, but we got it in place now and are ready to go.”
And when that time comes, Creekview and Smith will begin their seasons on Oct. 2 by renewing their head-to-head rivalry. The Mustangs and Trojans kick off from Standridge Stadium at 7 p.m. Turner currently has Conrad for a road opener at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2.
“Coach Ressa and I thought that was important, not just for our programs but for the community,” Cline said. “It’s always been a rivalry and we thought that was important since we’re not in the same district anymore. What a great way to start the season.”
“Creekview and Newman Smith has turned into a really good rivalry,” Ressa added, “and it’s one heck of a way to kick off the season with all this craziness happening and give people a great reason to come to Standridge Stadium, relax, and just enjoy a football game.”