LOWELL With rain on the new Lowells lawn at Cawley Memorial Stadium on Monday afternoon, the only indicators of a late February first day of football practice instead of an August one were the cold weather clothing and the two-meter snowdrifts on the sidelines.
That sense of normalcy also seemed to be the energy of playing for a new head coach, despite the start of the most erratic football season in modern history.
Rob Pike was hired in March to take the helm after seven successful years in Salem, New Hampshire, already knows what it’s like to build a culture and expectations with a new group of players. He assured that regardless of the circumstances, those expectations are the same for improving every day and winning matches. Each of the nearly 80 players in practice performed under that mindset, while Pike and the other staff coached them in the same way.
A preseason of just two weeks certainly presents its challenges in teaching a new system to an entire Div. 1 program, but COVID-19 has hit every program in the state with a sense of adversity.
High school football is high school football, Pike said. I’m sure everyone is just excited to be here. We just want to keep improving as individuals, becoming better footballers and as a team; get together and have some camaraderie, have some unity and play cool, Lowell football.
Players came out as if it were any other preseason practice, an achievement in itself given the uncertainty of the season over the past four months, the difference in opening day and shortened season. For Lowell, soccer practice in the past year is more normal than any other day, as classes are still remote.
Pike is optimistic that finally the ability to spend time together, along with regular competitiveness, is enough motivation to excel, despite the lack of state tournament plans.
Ben Zaim, a senior defensive end who played all four years, agreed.
He admits that Pike can face adversity as he adapts to new faces mostly hidden by masks, but even then everyone is committed to daily improvements. Monday practice included all the regular components of normal preseason practice, and Pike coached as he’d known players their entire career.
It will certainly be different. We just have to stick together and let things happen, Zaim said. None of us really knew what to expect, not even the captains. But I think a lot of people are just reassured that football is back, everyone is happy to be here.
And if anything, Zaim looks in a positive light at the unique nature of the season for him and the rest of the seniors.
When this season comes to an end, we would also (almost) graduate, he said. It’s going to be pretty cool. We’re going to play football.
New coach or old, that will not change.
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