How COVID-19 is impacting high school football players opportunities at the next level

High school football players facing new challenges in playing at next level
The young men of the Liberty High School football team won the state championship last year. This year, they face new challenges.
Posted at 12:16 PM, Sep 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 00:52:37-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The young men of the Liberty High School football team know adversity.

"We were down 17-3 at halftime, I looked at the scoreboard and was like, "this can't be happening again," said Jared Tufele.

Over the past year, Liberty High School seniors Tyler Williams, Jared Tufele, DaMark Colston and Zamier Marshall have learned first-hand what it means to make an adjustment - in game and in life. Their 2020 season was full of hope and expectation. But in March, COVID-19 hit, shutting downs schools and much of the city. And on July 23rd, the news every player had been dreading - their season was delayed.

"I was devastated. Based on the fact that senior year -- that's what we all look forward to as freshman, especially our class, we had a lot of goals after the season we just came off of," said DaMark Colston.

But a senior season isn't just about the opportunity to compete for a state championship, it's a springboard to the next level.

"Senior year is the most important because coaches want to evaluate you, see what you have to be able to play at the next level," said Colston.

A senior season can be even more critical for a player like Zamier Marshall, who is a collegiate level player but spent most of last season injured.

"I don't have as much film as other guys but the talent keeps up," said Marshall. "Many coaches will just tell me, 'I'm waiting on your senior season, we're going to see how you do after this year."

For these players, a strong season of film could mean the difference between playing D1 or D2, which would likely impact any chance to play after college. And while the pandemic hasn't put a halt on recruiting, UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo says it is a different world.

"And it will continue to be that way with less film and less introductions. You have to do as much of a job through Zoom calls or through conversations with on the phone or through coaches," said Arroyo.

Here's where it gets tricky. UNLV's season is also delayed, as are many conferences across the country, giving this year's college seniors an additional year of eligibility. Programs only have so many spots on their roster and scholarships to give. While UNLV has more commits than ever before at this point in the recruiting year, Coach Arroyo said roster management will be an issue for years to come and the high school senior who aren't playing right now are at a disadvantage.

"They're not getting the film, they're not getting the games," he said. "If you're playing versus not playing, you're both improving your skill set and your ability to expose yourself to more and more people."

Zamier said he's already feeling the squeeze. Columbia University had to pull back a scholarship because their 2020 season was canceled outright and University of Minnesota - Duluth - where he recently visited in person for a full-padded camp, told him the team has too many returning seniors.

"It's really like, am I going to play football in college or not? Is this going to be the end of my football career or not? I've been playing since I've been 4 years old and is it gonna end like this?"

Even with the uncertainties, these young men are determined to stay hopeful and ready for whatever comes next.

"I train 5, 6 days a week. Monday, Wednesday, Fridays," said Tyler Williams. "I get up at 5 in the morning to go run. Then I'll go to ACE Fitness to workout."

ACE Fitness co-founder Nick Lewis understands the journey well, making his way from Bishop Gorman to the Green Bay Packers practice squad. His approach is holistic - mind, body and soul - the goal is to not only prepare them for the next level of football, but for the next level of life.

"I played sports as well and it finished quick. Like, really quick. It's not going to be there forever but your life is," Lewis said.

To that end, Lewis' training includes lessons on hygiene, etiquette, entrepreneurship, the stock market and how to manage finances.They read a book a month and lay out their dreams on vision boards. All to fuel their growth.

"We tell him, 'at a certain age, it becomes what are you going to do for yourself?' Not what mom or dad are going to do for you but how are you going to mature and now take that decision for yourself and that's one of the things we see even more so now," said DaMone Colston, DaMark's father.

"They know that if they keep themselves focused and disciplined with working out and their educational journey that they can overcome all of these obstacles," said Sarita Edwards, Zamier's grandmother.

COVID-19 is an opponent no team had a game plan for. But this​ team knows how to make adjustments. Remember last year when they were down 17-3 against Bishop Gorman in the playoffs? They went on to win in overtime. Weeks later, they trounced Centennial to win state. They know how to overcome. And they know how to savor the moment when they do.

"I'm just waiting for that game. Whoever we play, whenever we play, it's going to be a good day," said Colston.