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Staff photo / Ridgeland football players run onto the field before a region matchup against Northwest Whitfield last Oct. 4 in Rossville, Ga.

One day after the TSSAA announced the start of fall sports would be delayed and several state sports associations are seemingly headed in the same direction, the Georgia High School Association told its member schools that it will loosen certain restrictions beginning Monday.

Executive director Robin Hines also announced after speaking with the GHSA's sports medicine advisory council that fall sports are on schedule to start on time. That means football camps will open July 27, with opening week still slated for Aug. 21. Workouts can also increase for the state's other fall sports — cross country, volleyball and softball — which are still scheduled to begin regular-season play Aug. 6.

The new guidelines, coming days after the state's Public Health State of Emergency was extended by Gov. Brian Kemp, will allow groups up to 50 (up from the original 20) to gather, and it permits teams to have intersquad 7-on-7 drills, though helmets and pads are still prohibited. Programs are also allowed to place athletes in different groups "if it can be done safely." The previous regulation specified groups had to remain consistent throughout workout sessions.

The easing of restrictions was announced just as Georgia is having its most prolific week of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 10,000 positive test results from June 28 to July 2. Thursday's total of 3,472 was the most in a single day in the state.

Tennessee has also experienced a spike in new cases, with nearly 7,000 reported from June 28 to July 2, a major reason TSSAA schools will vote Wednesday on one of four proposals that will at least delay the start of football by a month.

On the heels of the pandemic upswing, which spiked with 50,000 new cases across the country Thursday, the timing of the GHSA announcement caught some northwest Georgia football coaches by surprise.

"I was a little surprised about the ruling," Ridgeland coach Kip Klein said. "I had been hearing from coaches around the state that they thought we would be opening up more around the 13th instead of the 6th. When the governor extended the date I got worried we would be going the other way, especially when I heard from coaches in Tennessee and saw their speculation.

"I will remain cautiously optimistic that we can control the virus enough to keep going. It opens us up to get more offense and defensive schemes and timing in. Hopefully we can keep going that way without any problems."

Hines, in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, noted he is relying on trusted medical advice in easing the restrictions.

"Our sports medicine group feels that intensity can pick up,'' Hines said in the article. "We're where we thought we'd be. Now quarterbacks can throw to wide receivers. Pitchers can throw to batters with a catcher. Volleyball players will be able to set and spike. We're just taking baby steps, trying to strive for normalcy, while keeping as healthy as we can."

Some states, including Mississippi and Texas, have discussed moving football to the spring. Several across the country are joining Tennessee in seeking a delayed start to the season.

For Georgia's football coaches, the plan is to prepare as if training camps will open in a little more than three weeks.

"Honestly, it really wasn't a surprise to us given the track we've been on," Calhoun coach Clay Stephenson said. "We had a good June, even though we could only have 20 on campus the first two weeks. By the third week we were able to add an actual football into workouts. Now we can have 50 on campus and can progress into some 1-on-1 and 7-on-7 drills.

"We plan to end up with the entire group on the field together for team conditioning and hopefully get ready to play some football."

Contact Lindsey Young at lyoung@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.

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