Football’s return to Alabama comes with hope and worry

We’re less than two weeks away from college football in Alabama, and happiness and worry are competing in my brain to see which emotion can drain me of energy first.

This must be what it felt like for Missouri’s players after learning their two additional SEC opponents this season are Alabama and LSU. We all might be ground into bone dust, but isn’t this great?!

Take a deep breath, Alabama. (If you can do it without coughing.) The fortnight of truth is here. High school football games started on Thursday night (without testing!), and a full slate of games are scheduled for Friday. It looks like some (but not all) of the college football season might actually happen, too.

Be safe, everyone. Keep that mask above your nose. Don’t sit near the band, and maybe skip the line for concessions.

Isn’t it exhausting stuff having a love affair with sports during this coronavirus pandemic? Jasper High School in Walker County reportedly moved their game from Friday to Thursday to make sure kids had a chance to compete in at least one game this season.

For the record, Jasper defeated Mars Hill Bible 30-20 after a weather delay. It’s good to have high school sports again. As a sports writer, it’s a little emotional just having a chance to actually report a new score. The victory for Jasper was the first career win for new coach Philip Bailey, according to the Jasper Daily Mountain Eagle. Bailey will never forget that one.

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In Montgomery on Thursday, high school football delivered that signature type of unbridled, unscripted drama that makes the sport incredible. Pike Road defeated Montgomery Catholic 63-34 after trailing by 12 points in the second half. The game featured 14 touchdowns and 986 yards of total offense. Pike Road quarterback Iverson Hooks (what a name), accounted for five touchdowns (three passing and two rushing).

We want more of these games, but it’s more important that we know everyone is as safe as possible.

Every morning as the season approaches is bringing more stress than the day before. Will there be games? Are the players safe? God, please make Nick Saban wear that clear mask on the sidelines while he screams obscenities into the faces of SEC officials and his assistant coaches. Prayers up!

The SEC season openers are still more than a month away (Sept. 26). It feels like an eternity. On Thursday, we learned that UAB has scheduled two new games to replace canceled home dates. Great news. Less than an hour earlier, Georgia State freshman quarterback Mikele Colasurdo reported on Twitter that he was diagnosed with myocarditis after having COVID-19. Bad news.

Naturally, it makes you question if trying to even play at all is worth it. I’m tired, y’all.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 postponed their season based on concerns that COVID-19 can cause myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart. It’s a rare side effect, but that doesn’t make it any less concerning. It can lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

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Under that backdrop, and with more and more universities canceling in-class learning due to new coronavirus clusters, we’re plowing ahead with football for now. Yes, I’m excited for it. At the same time, I’m petrified. Again, high school football teams aren’t testing for the coronavirus because, they say, what’s the point? Players can test positive the next day.

That rationale seems reckless and a little insane no matter how badly we want kids to have their routines back. The SEC and other conferences are playing football because they’re testing at least twice a week. The NBA is playing, and has made it to the playoffs, because the games are in a bubble at Disney World.

I’m not against this football season happening because I know players generally receive excellent care. Still, there is no way for this not to sound morbid. Are schools testing and retesting their players’ hearts after they’ve had COVID-19? The report by Georgia State’s quarterback makes you think it’s necessary. A trainer wanted Colasurdo to have some tests just in case. It apparently wasn’t a requirement. That trainer is a hero, and more and more conferences are making heart tests a requirement for return to play.

It’s hard to know what’s right these days when everyone is making different decisions. I know this, though. We need more heroes.

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If everything isn’t canceled before we get there, UAB and South Alabama are opening the season for all of college football with games on Thursday, Sept.3. UAB is playing Central Arkansas at Legion Field, and South Alabama will be in Hattiesburg, Miss., for a game against Southern Miss. Can’t wait.

I’ll be there for the UAB opener, and we all know there will be plenty of social distancing options at Legion Field. Again, skip the concessions. You think gathering during COVID-19 is risky? Try eating one of those pallor-colored Legion Field dogs.

Those hot dogs better not make the trip downtown to UAB’s new home at Protective Stadium. This is the Blazers’ last run through the Old Gray Lady, and season tickets are only $75. Historic stuff. I hope we get to see it, and I’m gaining more and more confidence every day thanks to improving COVID-19 statistics in Alabama.

We’re wearing masks, and it’s working. Keep it up. We might just save college football at the 11th hour after all.

There is something strangely poetic about the team they couldn’t kill kicking off the season that refuses to die. UAB hasn’t lost a home game since the Blazers made that mythical return from the grave. It’s one of those fantastic stories of football, and I promise you that reporters miss telling them.

Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.

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