Two Hillsborough County high school football teams sitting out first week due to COVID-19

Two Hillsborough County high school football teams won't be taking the field during the first week of the season after at least one player on each team tested positive for COVID-19, the district confirmed Thursday.

The first game of the season for all teams in the Hillsborough County school district is September 11. But Several players and coaches for Hillsborough and Jefferson high schools are now quarantined after coming in close contact with the COVID-19-positive student-athletes on their respective teams.

"They would have had to have close contact with the individuals, so that would mean less than six-foot distance for more than 15 minutes at a time," said Erin Maloney, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County school district.

While Maloney said both teams will miss at least the first week of the season, Hillsborough High School Coach Earl Garcia said he's been told his team won't play in the first two games.

Coach Garcia said it's a disappointing situation for his players during, what has already been, a very challenging few months.

"These are kids. Football is in its purest form at this point. They live for Friday nights, as do the coaches," he Garcia said. "It was just another blow in a series of things that all of us have had to face and overcome this year."

Garcia said the player on his team who tested positive is a lineman. Fourteen players and four coaches are now quarantined for two weeks.

"Right now I have a team without any linemen," he said. "The line coaches and all of the linemen have been quarantined, although we just had one positive."

This news comes as the district released its guidelines for COVID-19 safety for student-athletes and coaches.

Maloney said safety comes first, but the district realizes how difficult this is for the kids.

"That first Friday, that first football game, so many students are excited about it," she said, adding the district will try to rework the schedules of the affected teams. "We will have to do some creative scheduling to make sure that we can make up those games toward the end of the season."

Coach Garcia is excited to eventually get his whole team back together, but he also knows there's a chance COVID-19 could strike his team again or their upcoming opponents.

"So it's not beyond the realm of possibility that we start our season in October. That's hard, man," he said. "We'll get through this one way or another. We'll have to, that's all there is to it. COVID is not going to beat us, we just got to keep plugging."

The district is allowing Hillsborough and Jefferson high schools' scheduled week-one opponents to play each other instead.