SOMERSET - On this day over the past 20 years, Pulaski County High School football coach Johnny Hines has always been hard at work preparing his Maroons for the upcoming playoffs.
In his 21st year at the PCHS helm, that hasn't changed. But they way he has having to do it, this year, has changed drastically.
The Maroons' locker room and practice field has remained empty for the 14 days, because the entire program has been in quarantine. The offensive and defensive drills on the practice gridiron has been replaced with video Zoom meetings, and those 'famous' Coach Hines pep talks has been replaced with group text messages.
"We can do anything through Zoom, text, and (other digital media platforms)," Hines stated. "We just can't get together and practice until after tomorrow (Friday)."
Probably Hines' biggest fear is that rust may have set into a once well-oiled Big Maroons Machine, which had reeled off seven straight wins - including a narrow win over cross-town district rivals Southwestern at the Reservation.
Other than their two narrow wins over the Warriors and Madison Southern, the Maroons have had five victories with an average 22-point winning margin. Their 42-19 trouncing of Class 6A powerhouse Tates Creek, on Friday, Oct. 30, was the last time the Maroons set foot on a football field.
"The biggest challenge is to see what kind of shape the team is in," Hines stated. "After two weeks of shut down it is problematic. We will go to work and do the best we can."
The good news is that the Maroons got an extra week to prepare for their first-round playoff game with North Laurel, after playoffs were moved back one week due to the statewide rising numbers of players in quarantine. Also, Pulaski County downed the Jags of North Laurel by a wide margin, 41-18, the last time these two teams met at Maroons Stadium on Oct. 9.
However, history has shown that the North Laurel football program can be problematic for the Maroons. While Pulaski County has easily got by Chris Larkey's Jaguars in the past two seasons, the Maroons narrowly defeated North Laurel (28-24) for the 2015 regional crown, and in a 2014 regular season match-up (14-12).
STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.