Scoring touchdowns comes easy for West Bloomfield High School running back Donovan Edwards, but he has come realize the 2020 football season is going to be a challenge when it comes to wearing a mask.
Edwards had 1,239 yards rushing and 419 yards receiving with 21 touchdowns last season, and he wonders how easy it will be to breathe with a mask covering his face this fall.
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When Edwards was asked what it would be like to run for a long touchdown, the four-star admitted, “I’d be gassed,” as he tries
acclimate himself to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new COVID-19 restrictions before his season opener at Oak Park on Sept. 18.
Executive Order 180, announced by Whitmer on Wednesday, requires athletes to wear face coverings while participating in organized sports. The order provided a few exceptions – swimmers don’t have to wear masks – and on Thursday the Michigan High School Athletic Association clarified that cross-country runners, golfers and tennis players also may compete mask-free.
Football, soccer and volleyball players, however, must wear face coverings at all times during active or non-active participation when social distancing cannot be maintained.
“The answer is that is a distraction; I could say so,” the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Edwards said. “But whatever the rules of the state and the governor gave at us, we’re just going to try fulfill every expectation that they want us to. We’re dying out here to play football, so whatever we have to do to play football we’re going to do.”
Wearing masks will be a fact of life for high school football teams in Michigan during the abbreviated six-game regular season and subsequent playoffs. At least for now.
“It’s kind of hard, but at the end of the day we just want to play football, so we’ll do whatever it takes,” Livonia Franklin senior linebacker Evan Pittenger said. “It’s going to be an effect, but at the end of the day, every team has to deal with it.”
During the first week of practice, Pittenger and his Franklin teammates wore face coverings to protect the mouth and nose from the neck up.
“We all wear gaiters, they’re easier than masks, that’s for sure,” Pittenger said. “Most of our stuff is hand signals, so I don’t think it should be that big of a deal. We just all want to be out here.”
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Neck gaiters are worn over the mouth guards, and that could require a change for players who traditionally have attached mouth guards to the cage of their helmets.
“It’s been a struggle talking, especially with having our mouth guards in,” said North Farmington senior Carson Roberts, a 6-foot-1, 265-pound center and nose guard. “We have to talk louder and louder every single time. It’s been hard breathing because we’re always breathing so much. It’s kind of difficult, but we’ve got to get used to it. It’s been a struggle, but I’m slowly getting used to it.”
Since Whitmer’s mask mandate surfaced, several health officials have said the players’ oxygen levels won’t be affected by wearing a mask.
“The science just doesn’t support that (it’s problematic),” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail told the Lansing State Journal.
But that hasn’t stopped area coaches from struggling with the issue. Michigan and Delaware are the only states requiring
masks worn for certain sports during high school competition.
“At this point, we’re just trying to follow rules and make sure we have masks on,” Dearborn Fordson coach Fouad Zaban said. “Obviously, when they’re in a scrimmage situation, when they’re running, they have to take it down a little bit so they can breathe. … I don’t want to kill them for not being able to breathe either. It’s been kind of tricky. Our trainers are there making sure that we stay on top of the kids. Our coaches have done a great job as well. You want to make sure they’re breathing, but you also have to be concerned about the virus.”
Canton coach Andy LaFata said he has become more aware of players who may have shortness of breath or be in some sort of physical distress while tryin…