DALTON, Ga. — Some day, perhaps next year or the year after when the sports world has returned to some sort of normalcy, Danny Wilson will look back on the 2020 high school football season with a sense of accomplishment.
Right now, though, Coahulla Creek's first-year head coach is too invested in keeping his team healthy while also trying to be competitive to think about it. If a typical football season is viewed as a marathon, Wilson and the Colts are in the process of sprinting for more than half of it.
Like dozens of prep sports programs in Georgia, Coahulla Creek had its season altered due to positive COVID-19 tests for its athletes. Three players tested positive in one week just more than a month ago, forcing the Whitfield County Health Department to consider it a "cluster," which basically shut the team down for 14 days.
The Colts had just started play in Region 6-AAA and were set to face North Murray and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe during those two weeks. With the help of the Georgia High School Association, Coahulla Creek athletic director Chris Woods was able to reschedule the games.
However, to accomplish that meant the Colts would play six times in 23 days. They are halfway through the busy stretch, having lost close games to Murray County, 15-7 on Friday, Oct. 16, and North Murray, 28-14 the next Tuesday, before being blown out against Adairsville this past Saturday.
The most recent game, which Wilson defined as mentally sloppy, is what has the coach concerned.
"Was it mental fatigue, was it just playing on a Saturday?" Wilson asked. "We felt like we were not mentally there. We made a lot of mental mistakes against Adairsville that we had not been making."
Wilson, the Colts' defensive coordinator for the past three seasons before taking his current role in January, already had experience as a head coach in Tennessee at Cleveland, Maryville Heritage and South Pittsburg, but the pandemic has tested veterans of the ranks, too.
"We're all pretty tired, even us old coaches," Wilson said. "My wife figured it up. In that eight-day span we were 87 hours on the clock. Trying to prep for games like that ahead of time is impossible. The tough one is when you play Tuesday night and turn around and play on Saturday.
"This is my 34th year, and I've never heard of three games in eight days, at least I've never been a part of it. It's a lot to ask of anybody. There is no instructional book for this, so we're just shooting from the hip right now."
Justin Baker, a junior receiver and defensive back, has played nearly every minute of the three games and admits Saturday's loss to the Tigers felt different in a lot of ways.
"I feel like what went wrong against them was more mental than anything," Baker said. "At some point it feels like we can't handle it, though we should be able to. I don't get tired of it myself — I personally love it — but it's tough to come together and play as a team like this."
Wilson and his staff have had to cut back on the amount of contact between players at practice in order to have something left for game day, but the change, he feels, has affected the preparedness and the play of the Colts.
"You can't go out there and put them through a full practice for four hours or you will kill them," Wilson said. "It's hard to get them properly prepared because we can't spend the time to do it.
"I'll tell you, though, they haven't tapped out. Practices have been good, so I'm proud of that. It's easy to listen to people outside the team about how tough it is, and sometimes it's tough for kids to not buy in to that. They took the challenge on and have not backed down."
The Colts are actually going through a more normal week in preparation for Friday night's game against LaFayette, but then they have to play LFO on Tuesday before ending the run Nov. 7 at Ringgold.
When asked if anything positive could come out of it, Wilson took a moment before finding an answer.
Even then, he admitted much more has been lost than gained.
"It's made us maybe appreciate what we do have when things are normal," Wilson said. "That we get to play a game and we get to teach kids life lessons at the same time.
"I've sort of struggled with that part of it this year. I mean, everybody wants to win, but hopefully we're doing this to teach these kids to be better men. Now there's not been time to teach those types of lessons, and it's sad."
Moments before hitting the practice field Wednesday, Baker said one day he and his teammates will hopefully have a sense of pride about what they are attempting to accomplish.
"I probably will look back and see how crazy it was," he said with a laugh. "Not many people get to do this."