rodney southern

Huntsville head coach Rodney Southern speaks to his team following a spring practice in 2019.

As COVID-19 cases continue to spike throughout Texas, Huntsville Independent School District has made the decision to delay the return of summer workouts.

The Hornets suspended activities on June 24, with plans to resume on July 6. However, based on updated guidance from the University Interscholastic League — and given the potential for increased social interaction during the July 4 holiday — this date has been pushed back to July 13.

Huntsville athletics director and head football coach Rodney Southern advised student-athletes in a release earlier this week to practice social distancing while they await updates.

“For schools in areas experiencing community spread of COVID-19, this temporary suspension will reduce risk of exposure and provide an opportunity to review current plans and re-evaluate local context in order to make informed decisions moving forward,” the UIL said in an email to athletics directors. “Schools will be allowed to include limited access to locker rooms and drills that include one or more students on offense versus one or more students on defense beginning July 13.

“Schools should consider their local conditions and plan carefully for allowing these activities. UIL will be posting updated summer activities information related to this in the coming days. UIL will continue to work with state officials and monitor CDC and other federal guidance related to COVID-19 to determine any potential modifications to UIL summer guidelines.”

Schools throughout the state have taken different approaches to summer workouts, as coaches and administrators attempt to navigate a situation unlike any they have experienced. But with only a few hours a day with student-athletes, there’s only so much coaches can control.

“When you say the word contain, I don't know if we can have any bearing on it as coaches — just because we're limited to the time we can be around them during the summer,” Southern said. “I think at some point we are going to have to realize there's going to be a new normal, whatever that looks like, and we're going to need to adapt to it.

“You never know when you open or close it if you're really doing what's the best thing, but at the same time, you have to look at other people too. It's not just about coaches or kids. It's about families and a lot of different things.”

The longtime coach notes that the sense of unknown created by the coronavirus — positive cases in Texas have surged to record highs in recent weeks, spurring a statewide mask order and other actions from Governor Greg Abbott — has been the most difficult aspect of the crisis to manage.

“At this stage ... we're about a month from the first day of football practice,” Southern added. “I have a plan for that, but we don't know for sure if that day is going to happen or not. We don't know if we're going to start later, schedule-wise. Are we going to be able to travel? Are other schools going to be able to travel?”

“There are so many variables that are out of our control completely — whether it's the UIL, TEA or even the state of Texas. We haven't put anything out about season tickets, because I don't know what the stadium situation at Sam Houston is going to be. And there are a lot of variables that they don't know either. So the unknown is the probably the hardest thing.”

While the COVID-19 outbreak has created unprecedented uncertainty in recent months, Southern has still managed to build some solidity within the program — filling out one his most seasoned coaching staffs in recent memory.

“We lost some coaches, but I've been able to replace every one of them,” he said. “I'm at a point on the football side where I'm going to have one of the most experienced coaching staffs I've had in a long time.”