The long-postponed high school football season is finally set to start this week in Massachusetts.
Football and a number of other so-called high-risk sports were delayed this past fall due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The Fall II season -- created as the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association adjusted to the realities of the pandemic -- is slated to run from Feb. 22 to April 25, with no MIAA-sponsored postseason, the organization announced last month. School districts are able to opt out if they choose to.
Along with football in the Fall II season are cheerleading, indoor track and unified basketball. School districts also had the option of moving the following sports from the Fall I season to Fall II: cross-country, dance, golf, field hockey, soccer, swim and dive and volleyball.
It's guaranteed to be a season like none other -- starting with navigating a field covered in a lot of snow -- but players and coaches say they'll take what they can get.
"Even though it's raining and there's snow on the ground, there's still no place I'd rather be right now. I've just had a smile on my face all day," one Holliston football player said. "It has been tough, 15 months I think, since we last have played, and it is finally here, it is amazing."
"We have about half the field plowed right now, but this is a year where you're gonna need flexibility, you gotta be ready for anything. There is going to be adversity everyday," one of Holliston's coaches said.
"We are used to having to deal with 90 degree heat, certainly not nine inches of snow," a Framingham coach said. "Can't wait to get going, can't wait to start running around and feel a part of something that we haven't felt a part of, for a long time."
There's new rules, of course. Practices are spaced out and players have to wear cloth masks. Huddles are allowed but players must keep their social distance. And there won't be the return of big crowds.
But coaches and players tell NBC10 Boston they are so ready to return -- even if it does mean a few new rules.
One infectious disease doctor we talked to says this is a good first step, as long as those protocols remain in place.
"We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, but this is the time to still buckle down and to follow the public health measures so we can all get to the point we don't need those face coverings," the doctor said.
“We made adjustments in the fall and had a successful first season. We made additional modifications for the winter and our student athletes have been actively engaged since December. Now we are hopeful that with the guidance from the Governor’s office and of [the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs], along with the work of our various committees, that we will be able to have a safe and successful Fall II Season,” MIAA President Jeffrey Granatino said in a statement announcing the start date last month.
The announcement came amid a decline in coronavirus case levels from the height of the second surge in Massachusetts as the vaccine rollout ramped up. Cases, hospitalizations and percent positivity have continued to drop in the weeks since the announcement.
More on COVID-19 in Massachusetts
Gov. Charlie Baker has encouraged schools to reopen with safety measures in place, citing research that shows schools that take precautions are not likely to be sources of major spread in the community.
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on high school sports, impacting the second half of the 2019-20 season and the start of the 2020-21 season. In August, high school football, cheer and unified basketball were moved to practice only.