VISALIA, Calif. — During a normal season, football practice isn’t always something players look forward to, but at College of the Sequoias, it’s a treat.
“You used to dread it,” said COS tight end Anthony Valencia. “But now I wanna go to practice. I wanna be out there with my teammates, my coaches, and my brothers.”
That’s because COS is the only junior college in the Central Valley Football Conference and one of only 17 in the state of California that opted to play football this spring.
“I like to use the word ‘commencement.’ I think we’re finally commencing with competition,” said first-year COS head football coach Travis Burkett. “It’s better than spring ball, because you don’t have to play each other on the weekends.”
The Giants have been practicing for almost two weeks now in preparation for a spring schedule that could include anywhere from two to seven games.
“Our opt-in degree was 100 percent all-in, was 100 percent all-in for every game that we could play,” Burkett said. “Now obviously to play a game, you gotta have an opponent.”
In addition to finding playing partners, the COS football program needs to make sure it stays at a point where its players can play as well.
They are tested every day and practice looks a little different at times, with players and coaches socially distanced.
“Take care of what you do away from us, make sure you’re never inside, and then always mask up, gator up,” explained Burkett.
Woodlake High School alum Anthony Guzman says it feels like playing Pop Warner all over again.
“Changing your pads outside, not sitting in a locker room, I mean, it feels better being outside,” Guzman said.
It is a feeling Guzman and Valencia, a Mt. Whitney HS graduate, who spent a year redshirting at Sacramento State before coming back to play at COS, have grown to appreciate even more. Both went through some rough periods mentally during the height of the pandemic.
“You know, everything was closed. I lost my job,” explained Guzman. “Took a little slight fall in schooling.”
“I feel a lot more content with myself, a lot more happy, and more enthusiastic about being out here and about life,” the linebacker added.
“Just knowing that we can all come out here as a unit, practice and laugh, and just really bond. That’s just an amazing thing,” Valencia said.
So far, COS has two games scheduled against Antelope Valley on back-to-back weeks starting March 27th.
The other 15 junior colleges in California playing don’t have all of their COVID-19 protocols in place yet, so COS might also try to add some games against junior colleges from other states and NAIA schools.