Chelsea starts gearing up for 2020 season

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

CHELSEA – Coming off a 2019 season that saw the Chelsea’s football team get off to a 4-1 start and finish the season with its most wins and first playoff berth since 2016, the Hornets enter the summer of 2020 with the hope of continuing to build in the right direction under third-year head coach Dustin Goodwin.

But as summer workouts began on Monday, June 8, the Hornets have little time to make big decisions after a three-month break from in-person practice, workouts and conditioning due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

“We tried to stay in contact with them through our social devices that we have giving them workouts,” Goodwin said. “Kids called and checked in from time to time and we encouraged our coaches to do the same. That was probably the hardest part, because they may not check devices every day and had other stuff going on.”

But the Hornets are now back together as a team again, and have started the trek toward continuing their improvement and building off of last year’s success.

A season that saw Chelsea get off to that fast start ended with a 5-6 record and a first-round exit from the playoffs. But, one of those losses was a forfeited game they won against No. 1 Class 5A semifinalist Briarwood 17-14, while the lost three games by three points or less.

Wins in those tight games prevented what would have been an eight-game winning streak and a region title. And while the Hornets went out in the first round of the playoffs, they lost to the eventual Class 6A State Champion in Oxford.

All-in-all, even the negatives featured some positives last year for Chelsea.

“Anytime you can gain momentum, I think that’s good,” Goodwin said. “I thought last year’s group was consistent throughout. Losing several close games, we weren’t too far off. This year’s group is going to have to prove themselves. They can’t be satisfied and will have a ton of work ahead. The sky is the limit. We can do as well as we want to or as bad as we want to. They have to remain hungry.”

As they return to practice, that hunger is something Goodwin is paying close attention to, and he said some of the leaders like senior running back Collier Blair and defensive star Chandler Pruitt have stepped up even more so with having to be vocal leaders for the team while away.

Goodwin said that’s key for this year’s squad because while they can build off last year, they have several key positions to fill, including quarterback, and a limited time to judge who will fill those necessities.

“We’re going to have to cut down our timeline. Normally we evaluate over a period of time, but we’ll have to rush that this year,” Goodwin said of the team’s position battles. “Quarterback is an important position to the offense, but so are the five guys up front, and we’ll have to evaluate them quickly as well. We need players to separate themselves and take charge early on this summer.”

Goodwin knows the more experienced teams will have more of an advantage than they already would have, which is why his returnees will not only be key for their production, but getting other guys up to speed.

Right now, the team is focusing on strength and conditioning during the voluntary workout portion of the summer, as the Hornets gear up for fall practice, which will start a week earlier than normal on July 27.

“Some kids did better than others during the time off, but we all have areas to work on,” Goodwin said. “That’s our focus. We need to get them to a point, where on Friday nights, and practicing for that matter, will be doable from a conditioning and strength standpoint. Three months off from anything is a long time.”

But Goodwin is optimistic about this season despite the short preparation time they’ll have to figure out positions, saying if his guys can trust one another they’ll see similar to success to last year, and possibly get over that hump of the close games.

“The team working together is what makes high school sports great,” Goodwin said. “If you get 11 guys on both sides of the ball that trust one another to do their job, then you’ll have a chance. Last year’s group gave us that.”

Goodwin also said this year’s group should have plenty of motivation after seeing how quickly the season can be taken away following the spring of 2020 sports season coming to an abrupt halt and ending due to the novel coronavirus.

“We try to tell our kids to value every opportunity they can get. I think this year’s group across every sport in the athletic department can understand that more than anybody in the past,” Goodwin said. “It obviously makes this time even more precious. Hopefully our kids will see that and put their best foot forward each and every day.”

And this year, the Hornets will need that best foot forward with one of the most difficult regions in the state.

Moving into Region 5 of Class 6A, Chelsea will now take on the likes of Mountain Brook, a playoff team moving down from 7A, Briarwood, a semifinal team moving up from 5A, as well as Homewood, Shades Valley, Huffman and Woodlawn. In addition to that, they’ll also be taking on a difficult out-of-region schedule with matchups against Oak Mountain, Helena, Pelham and Calera.

“There is no easy road for us. Our kids know what is ahead and what they need to do to be successful,” Goodwin said.