‘It was a test that we didn’t get to take’: LHS football loses marquee matchup with Mill Valley

photo by: Chance Parker

Lawrence High players and coaches do their best to social distance during the Friday night game against Olathe West.

After three lopsided wins in as many weeks, Lawrence High’s football team (No. 1 in Class 6A) was looking forward to a marquee matchup with Mill Valley (No. 1 in Class 5A) at LHS on Friday. It figured to be an important test for a team with state championship aspirations this season.

But that showdown was ultimately canceled after an LHS player tested positive for COVID-19, Athletic Director Nick Wood told the Journal-World on Sunday. Now, 69 players and two coaches have been instructed to quarantine, according to a release provided by the Lawrence school district over the weekend.

The Lions will not be able to return to football practice until Oct. 1, meaning they are currently only expected to miss their Week 4 matchup. Mill Valley, the defending Class 5A champions, will now host Gardner-Edgerton on Friday instead.

“It was a test that we didn’t get to take,” LHS head coach Steve Rampy told the Journal-World in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s tough because we were excited to play them. They are where we are going, and that would have been a good gauge for us to figure out what we need to do in the next five or six weeks.”

The unnamed player who tested positive did not participate in Lawrence’s 42-14 win over Olathe West last Friday. According to the release, the player last participated with the team during a practice on Thursday, Sept. 17. The student who tested positive is now isolating in accordance with public health requirements.

In addition to the varsity game, this week’s junior varsity contest between LHS and Mill Valley was also canceled. The freshman football game against Mill Valley, which is slated to take place on Wednesday, is still expected to be played.

This isn’t the first COVID-19-related incident in the Lawrence area since the high school sports season started. A Free State participant tested positive in the opening week of the season, which led to Free State’s Week 2 opponent backing out as a precautionary move.

LHS also had its offseason workouts put on pause every now and then this past summer, but losing a game entirely had a bigger impact on the players.

“It creates a stir of fear because nobody knows what’s going to happen on the other side,” Rampy said. “It makes the whole thing more real. I think our kids were scared a bit that we were going to lose the rest of our season.”

At the same time, Rampy hopes that this time in quarantine will allow players to understand the importance of their health.

“We can’t just ignore why we are doing this,” Rampy said. “Let’s make sure to not overlook when you get a runny nose or a sore throat. Take care of yourselves more than anything else and be ready to come back.”

From a football perspective, the Lions’ coaching staff and players will be limited on what they can do until they return to practice on Thursday, Oct. 1.

Rampy said that the team watched film on the Olathe West game over Zoom on Monday. Rampy said the coaching staff was then going to dissect the tape from the first three games. He challenged his staff to focus more intently on details it might have originally overlooked.

Lawrence will then start watching film on Bishop Carroll next week if things go as planned.

Mostly, it will be up to players to individually prepare during this time. There is no getting together, so quarterback Jackson Dooley will have to throw the ball to family members to stay in rhythm. All of the Lions’ players will have to work on conditioning at home.

“It’s not so much the football stuff,” Rampy said. “We simplify, and our guys are old enough to understand what we are doing. It’s just if we can do enough to stay in decent shape.”

Fortunately for Rampy, the Lions have a veteran group that features 28 seniors and that has really helped them navigate through the challenges of playing football during a pandemic. It has also helped Lawrence win all three varsity games by a combined score of 151-21 to start the season.

Still, the group will certainly be tested when LHS does return to action in Week 5. Lawrence will have just two days to prepare for a home meeting with Bishop Carroll, a game that is now slated to take place on Saturday, Oct. 3, after originally being scheduled on a Friday.

Bishop Carroll is 2-1 and ranked No. 4 in Class 5A this year. The Eagles have only been defeated once — in a 35-21 loss to Derby, a team that has won the Class 6A state title in each of the past two seasons.

“I’ve questioned my sanity on this deal,” Rampy said. “I’ve had buyer’s remorse, if you will. They are a great football team. The biggest mistake we could be making is saying we can play (Bishop Carroll) with two days of practice. But I don’t want to lose the game with our kids.”

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