Alabama high school football playoffs are here as coaches 'hold our breath a lot and hope for the best'

Nick Alvarez
Montgomery Advertiser

Adam Fossett and his son walked into Garrett Coliseum and stood in line for a bagel. Fossett, for the first time in his career, had walked into the Alabama High School Athletic Association postseason football coaches meeting without a game scheduled. 

In fact, B.B. (Sylacauga) Comer had already advanced into the second round on Nov. 13. The Tigers' opening contest against St. Luke's Episcopal had been canceled the day prior.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced 208 cancellations across the seven AHSAA classes. Another playoff matchup — between Class 4A, Region 3-winning American Christian and Geneva — won't feature ACA's coach Chris Smelley name, who tested positive a few days ago. Forty-two of the 208 playoff teams forfeited a game this season, and 103 earned wins via cancellation. Each coach is excited about the prospect of completing a season some didn't even think would start, but in that meeting, they were reminded of the tenuous situation. 

"If you can't make the 7 p.m. kick, just like in the regular season, you'll forfeit," said Steve Savarese, the AHSAA executive director. 

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St. Luke's (4-5) started the season with players in quarantine, coach Ron Lee said. On Oct. 2, the Wildcats won against Greene County, which didn't have enough players. St. Luke's had earned a playoff berth from Region 2 when Lee faced a question: Should he move practice inside to avoid weather from an impending hurricane?

Lee decided to practice in the school's gym last week while rain pooled outside. St. Luke's conducted daily temperature checks with each student attending in-person classes that day, as is standard, and no football players showed symptoms. But by the following afternoon, one Wildcat had tested positive and the entire offensive line would need to self-isolate.

"We hold our breath a lot and hope for the best," Fossett said. 

The other Alabama playoff coaches were made aware during the meeting. At first, though, some of the coaches sitting in the four socially-distanced section stared at the rafters. Some tapped on their phones playing mobile games. One coach even reviewed film on Hudl. But when they heard the cancellation news, they perked up. 

Fossett found out the day prior. He looked at it as another sign of a historical, sporadic campaign for the Tigers. They beat Childersburg for the first time in 25 years in the opener. Comer then lost the following week 38-0. Eventually the rushing attack led by Rafael Johnson and Jacob Price led to seven-straight wins. No opponent had forfeited against them all season until St. Luke's. 

Fossett felt "weird" about the second-round berth, especially during the portion of the meeting where coaches are called to stand and deliver the date and time of their game. When Comer was called, Fossett stood and said his team's record, mentioned no opponent and sat down. Lately, he's paid more attention to the AHSAA's phrasing of the playoff schedule. "Current as of now," it states. Like many coaches, Fossett sees it as a constant reminder of how nothing is certain this postseason, despite a completed regular season. 

"We're scheduled for round two," Fossett said, "but we're really day-to-day."