Although the Plano West football team’s season isn’t scheduled to begin until Aug. 28, the Wolves are still finding plenty of ways to instill competition into their time on the gridiron.
Be it players racing one another across a series of 40-yard sprints — with coaches announcing the winner of each heat — or seeing which group can inject more energy into its workouts inside the team’s indoor facility, West is competing every which way it can as the players embrace the grind of the UIL’s limited summer workouts.
“That’s a big deal here and part of our culture,” said Tyler Soukup, West head football coach. “With our coaches, we had to stress creating a race. Don’t just run 40 yards or 30 yards — make them race. We’re calling out winners. In order to incite 100% effort, that’s what you have to do, otherwise you get kids running at 90%. We set our drills up so there’s competition. It’s everywhere in our program and something that’s vastly important to us.”
The Wolves are doing so under a strict set of guidelines as schools acclimate to the parameters put in place by the UIL due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. West, which has the second-largest enrollment in the state at 5,579.5, burned plenty of midnight oil in constructing a blueprint to accommodate the students on hand for its strength and conditioning program.
“Our thought process began in the weight room because of the 25% rule. That impacts everything, including group size,” Soukup said. “In order to get enough kids in one session to where you’re not basically having sessions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., we decided to go with three different groups — 38, which is 25% of our capacity, in the weight room, a group 38 in the turf room that was split, and then 38 out here on the track.”
The Wolves conduct workouts Monday-Thursday with three sessions each morning — one at 7 a.m. that mostly includes varsity and junior varsity athletes, another at 9 a.m. for JV, JV2 and incoming freshmen, and one at 11 a.m. for middle schoolers. West’s girls have strength and conditioning workouts at 8 a.m. split between the campus’ softball and baseball fields that include around 65 students, a number that well exceeded the expected turnout, according to coaches.
Once athletes are screened and fill out a daily questionnaire, accessed by scanning a QR code with a phone, they break off into three separate groups for their morning session. The Wolves left no stone unturned along the way — outlining everything from separate entry and exit points for their indoor facility, to spacing apart all workouts in the weight room and on the practice field. Hand sanitizer stations are on each side of the facility, students clean their equipment diligently, and all move in social-distanced, single-file lines from one station to the next every 30 minutes. For the girls’ workout, cones are scattered around the outfield for players to place their belongings while maintaining an appropriate distance.
“As you would imagine, there were some early hiccups, but I was overall very pleased. I think by Wednesday — we went really slow on Monday and Tuesday teaching protocols — this particular group was rolling,” Soukup said. “We were doing some really good things and looking like we could really move forward. [Wednesday] was probably that hump day where our coaches started getting on them and started pushing them a bit more.”
The players took that liberty upon themselves at times on Wednesday morning, encouraging their teammates to up their energy as they tried to outwork their counterparts on the opposite side of the practice field. Whereas the Wolves haven’t lacked in finding that competitive spark despite not having games on the docket for another couple of months, there’s still plenty of evaluation left due to spring practices being cancelled.
“We were having a tremendous offseason and couldn’t have been more excited about it. What’s lost is evaluating the kids as players,” Soukup said. “I’ve never not done spring ball — the roster is never set by then, but you always had a pretty good idea of who’s varsity or JV. … Sometimes kids are great in the weight room but struggle with playing football, and sometimes it’s the other way around. You’ve got to find out who those kids are.”
The Wolves hope they’ll get to accelerate that process Aug. 3 when fall workouts begin.