CINCINNATI — Colerain senior linebacker Michael Bess Jr. simply can't wait to take the field this Friday night.
There is a natural anticipation for any high school football player preparing for the bright lights of the season opener in late August.
But, this season -- as we all know -- is happening under unique circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're very hungry especially with all this corona happening," Bess said. "We're just very impatient -- ready to get onto the field and ready to hit somebody."
That's certainly the case for over 600 teams who plan to participate in 11-player football this fall in Ohio.
"There is so many states not playing football and I'm just humbled and blessed to get this opportunity," Lakota West senior linebacker Jackson Kuwatch said. "I know everyone in that locker room feels the same way."
Unique isn't a strong enough description of this summer where teams received the green light just 10 days before the start of the season.
"To be honest, turbulent might be an accurate description," Colerain coach Shawn Cutright said.
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Colerain, winners of 20 consecutive Greater Miami Conference titles, will open the season against Lakota West at 7 p.m. Friday at Cardinal Stadium.
Yet, the pageantry around the stadium, where fans typically line the fence and wait in line for concession options in an otherwise heavily anticipated match-up, won't accompany this Friday night.
A limited number of spectators -- the lesser of 1,500 or 15% capacity -- are allowed at each high school football venue.
"It's definitely going to be an eye-opener because the fans are so supportive and the community is so supportive around Colerain," Bess said. "But I think we are going to push through and get it done."
Spectators will be primarily the parents, families or loved ones of the student-athletes.
"It's going to be different," Colerain defensive coordinator Phill Joseph said. "There is nothing like that excitement of coming down the steps on opening night or those big playoff games with all the fans and the big crowd. But, at the end of the day, it's football and we're between the lines and we're playing."
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine admitted last week the familiar Friday night atmosphere won't be the same.
"It's not going to be your typical Friday night football in Ohio," DeWine said. "Friday night football is when the community comes together literally. And you see people you don't see all week but you see them Friday night. You get your popcorn and you watch the football game -- it's just not going to be like that. We hope it's only one season, but the young people are going to get to play."
In addition to the social distancing and health and safety protocols in place, the Ohio High School Athletic Association is launching an "inspector's program" where designated individuals will attend contests throughout the state to ensure mandates are being followed.
"The purpose of this program is educational in nature," OHSAA interim executive director Bob Goldring said. "We want your student-athletes to be able to continue to compete and, in order for that to continue, we all need to do our part to help stop anyone from contracting and/or spreading COVID-19."
The high school sports world knows all too well that nothing is guaranteed at any point of the calendar year.
The players and coaches continue to say each week is an adjustment, including social distancing practices and limiting time in the locker room and around teammates.
"This is a passionate game," St. Xavier coach Steve Specht said. "We coach high school kids for a reason. I think what I miss the most are the high-fives and the hugs. You want to celebrate with the kids. Right, wrong or indifferent, masks are impersonal. It dehumanizes you not being able to hug a kid and have that contact. It's dehumanizing. That's hard for a coach to deal with. I don't care what sport it is. You need that connection with the kids."
Yet, coaches and players say the opportunity to compete is worth the sacrifices in a season in which all teams will make the postseason for the first time in OHSAA history.
"For the seniors I'm ecstatic for because I've got a couple of kids that they need some colleges to get a look at them and they haven't been able to do that," Roger Bacon coach Mike Blaut said. "So they need to go out and perform. Besides that just the fact of going out and playing with their buddies one more time."
Lakota West athletic director Scott Kaufman smiled Friday night while explaining how special it was to watch the Firebirds play St. Xavier in a scrimmage knowing the uncertain journey high school sports has endured since mid-March.
"Just getting the kids on the field, it is just cool for me to see," Kaufman said. "I'm disappointed we can't have bigger fans and a larger crowd, but I'd take an empty stadium if it meant the kids playing."