• Payne Fullen and Tucker James do some weighted situps during a Tuesday workout at TRA. Photo by Jeff Ireland

If you’ve ever spent anytime in a high school football weight room or locker room, one of the first things you’ll probably notice is the smell.

With a bunch of teenage boys spending a lot of time in there sweating, plus the discarded sweaty clothes, it doesn’t exactly smell like a candle shop, unless it was one with body odor-scented candles.

When first-year Tipton-Rosemark Academy football coach Shannon O’Brien walked a reporter through the school’s weight room on Tuesday morning, one of the first things he said was, “You notice how good it smells in here?”

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It didn’t smell like burning incense, but it did smell clean, which is just one more thing that is different as teams navigate workouts during a global pandemic.

Offseason workouts resumed at TRA on June 1, five days after Tipton County schools did the same.

O’Brien and his coaching staff spend a lot of time wiping down equipment, distributing hand sanitizer and checking in players before they enter the facility.

There are 32 people on the roster, but with some on vacation he has been able to divide the team into three groups of nine or less, plus one coach.

The guys come in between 8 and 10 a.m. each day. They lift weights and get outside of conditioning when the weather allows.

On Tuesday eight guys, mainly upperclassmen, rotated quickly between weight stations and seemed to be happy to be there.

Rising senior Tucker James said he was excited when word circulated the facilities were opening. He also plays baseball and saw his junior season in that sport cancelled.

“Being off for a while, especially losing baseball season, it was boring and tiring. I’m not used to not doing anything. I’m used to staying in the weight room and all that kind of stuff. Being off for so long I really wasn’t in good shape. It was tough coming back but I think we’ll be alright.”

Payne Fullen, a rising junior quarterback, was also in the weight room on Tuesday.

“We had been off for so long and being in different groups, I didn’t know how it was going to be,” he said. “I like being in smaller groups. The weight room is not as crowded and you don’t have to wait for people to get done with equipment before you start. We have weights at my house and I was trying to work out every day or every other day. Some weeks I could, some weeks I couldn’t.”

O’Brien said most of his players pretty much picked up where they left off in the weight room, but conditioning was another story.

“About 50 percent of them are in good shape,” O’Brien said. “The running part has gotten to a few of them,  but for the most part, strength-wise and lifting-wise, a lot of them stayed active.”

Tipton-Rosemark operates differently than most schools. Once the school year ends, a large group of rising seniors go on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Many football players are included in that group, meaning offseason workouts for many are put on hold during that time period in late May.

“It worked out pretty well,” O’Brien said. “We would have lost that week anyway.”

Still, O’Brien acknowledged that the shutdown earlier in the spring has had an effect on things.

“The worst part is the guys who play baseball weren’t able to be active during the spring and football wasn’t able to have spring workouts or practice,” he said. “It’s a struggle here anyway to have spring practice because when the baseball team has great success, which they always do, we have a lot of guys who play baseball who will miss spring practice. Not having those spring workouts and activity I think hurt us.”

TRA seems to be in the same situation as most of its opponents. The 2020 schedule does not include a rural West Tennessee teams, many of which began workouts in mid-May. The schedule consists primarily of private schools from Jackson, Fayette County and the Nashville area, most of which also resumed workouts on June 1.

“WE kind of felt like we needed to get going by June 1 because these schools in these other counties are getting going, too.” O’Brien said.

Every TRA student has a school-issued laptop that is usually returned to the school during the summer. In these unprecedented times, students were allowed to keep the computers.

O’Brien set up a Google classroom to try and stay connected to his players.

“They have been emaling me, messaging me, saying ‘When are we going to get going, when are we going to get going?’ I’ll be honest with you. A lot of them were coming up here on their own, getting on the field, running, playing touch football. We couldn’t officially sanction that, but we have an open campus and I wasn’t running kids off who wanted to be active.”

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