Ready or not, kickoff is here.

Friday night, six teams from the Peninsula Athletic League — Sacred Heart Prep at Aragon, Capuchino at San Mateo and Burlingame at Half Moon Bay — will be the first programs to play football in San Mateo County since Serra hosted Wilcox in the semifinals of the 2019 Central Coast Section playoffs on Nov. 23, a span of 475 days.

The fact that the reboot of football is occurring on the same day that high school sports was shut down a year ago was not lost on Aragon head football coach Steve Sell.

“Talk about symmetry,” Sell said. “We walked off campus March 12 (2020) and March 13 was the saddest day. No one on the baseball field, no one on the track, no one on the tennis courts. No one anywhere.”

The teams return to a decidedly different world than that day March day 365 days ago. In addition to all the regular issues that surround the beginning of any sports season, there are the added issues of ensuring COVID-19 safety protocol. San Mateo head coach Jeff Scheller said he’s been dealing with spectator guidelines, which he said allows up to four family members from the same household allowed to attend.

Burlingame head coach John Philipopoulos said being the athletic director, in addition to coaching, makes things a bit more hectic.

Sell and Scheller are their schools’ ADs as well.

“There are stresses of preparations and doing things safely and all the extra things you have to worry about,” Philipopoulos said. “But all in all, we just wanted to get out there. … It’s a good problem to have.”

The excitement of returning to play, however, has been a bit tempered by the fact that while COVID-19 case counts continue to drop, they are still there and can still have a significant impact on all sports. The Serra football team is finding that out firsthand as 16 players have been put in COVID-19 quarantine, putting its season opener against Valley Christian next week in jeopardy.

“I feel excited and also a little bit, I guess, concerned about the uncertainty of what happens,” said Mark Grieb, Sacred Heart Prep head coach. “I’m just hopeful for the kids to get an opportunity to play as many games as they can.”

Sell credits the players as much as anyone or anything for keeping the season alive. It would have been easy for football players to jump ship to another sport or to simply skip football this season.

Instead, the players kept showing up for conditioning work, for socially-distanced workouts. Even when things were at their darkest, the players kept up hope, which in turn, buoyed the coaches.

“[These players] came all summer, most of the fall, in the winter, working … and these kids are putting in extraordinary work when it looked doubtful, at best. As a coach, you start to feel guilty that you’re leading these kids on,” Sell said. “As a coach, I learned a lot from the kids. … These kids are champions. I know the narrative in the ‘boomer’ community is that kids aren’t as tough as they used to be. They don’t have the character they used to.

“I would hold up the kids who are playing, who hung in there and worked hard as an exhibit that they (boomers) should probably reserve that judgment.”

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