Reflection on Team 131



The University School Football team faces off in an inter-team scrimmage

Isaac Vail

This year’s football team had high hopes coming into training camp this August. The Preppers had some of the best summer attendance in living memory, a strong and committed core of players, and the potential for a deep playoff run with a dynamic and talented team coming off of a hard-fought 2019 season. With a strong offensive line, solid pair of half backs, veteran quarterback, and the largest group of seniors that we’ve seen in a long time, everything seemed to be going as well as possible in the age of COVID-19. To say that we performed to our capacity would be a gross underestimation of potential.

Team 131’s performance wasn’t stellar in any light. We pulled out only one regular season win and a first-round playoff elimination in a year in which every team qualified to playoffs. With a tough 46-13 loss to Mogadore in week one, things seemed to come apart at the seams almost immediately. This loss definitely set the tone for the rest of the season. How on earth were prospects so high for a group that ultimately fell so short?

Unsurprisingly, one explanation could be the Coronavirus. “Football requires a high level of tactical awareness,” said Coach Malbasa. “You have to understand the scheme… At the same time, you need to know the technique that goes into executing it… if you don’t have the technical skill to execute… all that tactical awareness is for nothing. And if you have technical skill without technical awareness, the skill isn’t well used.”

Unfortunately, the world of COVID-19 is toxic to the training needed to develop those skills. “Where I think this year, we struggled a little bit was with the development of technical skill and tactical awareness,” he said. “Almost every other day during two-a-days last year, we spent about 45 minutes watching film. This year, because we were trying to be very careful about the time we were spending in close groups, we tried to do all of that via Hudl, watching on your own. There’s a big difference between watching it on your own without the coach sitting right there and saying, ‘hey are you seeing this,’ and let’s face it, the pressure that comes of knowing ‘hey I’m going to be on film and my whole team is going to be watching as coach corrects me gently or not so gently about what I’m doing.’”

With today’s emphasis on minimal contact with other people (especially in large groups), much of what helps create the necessary awareness and understanding in a sport just wasn’t present. With summer two-a-days shortened and no scrimmages, the amount of practice and game situations presented to the team this season fell drastically short of other seasons. Along with that, actual time the team spent together in meetings, film sessions, or just in the locker room virtually disappeared. The coaching, practice, and general time that any football program relies on for its success simply was not able to exist within today’s safety guidelines.

After a disappointing season, however, the Preppers are looking to the future. With a roster boasting more than 50 returning players, 16 of which will be seniors, there is much optimism for next year. “This group, in seven weeks of football, had more win-zone stops than any team I’ve ever coached,” said Coach Malbasa. Not only does this highlight the defensive side of the ball, especially after this season, but it also speaks to the team as a whole: as it stands now, we have the potential to stand together and prevail over our opponents. The circumstances which struck the Achilles heel of our program are the exception, and not the rule. Hopefully, with this in mind, the US Football Team can finally release itself from the not so figurative disease that plagued them in 2020.