Orange County high school football coaches trying to stay positive as COVID-19 numbers worsen

Estancia High School quarterback Cameron Knickerbocker works on running drills with running back Beto Sotomayor.
Estancia High School quarterback Cameron Knickerbocker works on running drills with running back Beto Sotomayor during a football practice in Costa Mesa on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Marina High football coach Jeff Turley has seen the coronavirus pandemic impact his family on a personal level.

Turley said his oldest son Jeff Jr., a fourth-year medical student at Florida International University who is in high-risk situations every day, tested positive for COVID-19 last week. He was set to conclude a 10-day self-isolation period on Thursday.

“I’m not one that’s immune to the whole thing,” the elder Jeff Turley said. “It’s scary, but if we take the precautions and isolate and get the people away if they have any type of symptoms, I think we’ll be OK.”

Turley, who guided the Vikings to the CIF Southern Section Division 9 title last season, wants to make sure the Vikings can have a title defense. But cases continue to mount in the state, casting doubt on the modified high school sports calendar that the Southern Section introduced on July 20.

Estancia High School coach Mike Bargas works with his team during practice on Thursday.
Estancia High School football coach Mike Bargas works with his team during practice on Thursday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Per the calendar, football teams would be allowed to fully practice with pads on Dec. 14, and games would start Jan. 8 — seven weeks from now.

According to the National Federation of State High School Assns., 35 states offered football this fall, with 30 leading to state championships. Another 10 states were able to offer other fall sports. But California was not one of them.

The Southern Section has said it is not changing its calendar as it continues to wait for updated youth and high school sports guidelines from the California Department of Public Health.

Those have not arrived yet during a week when Orange County returned to the most restrictive “purple” tier on Monday.

The order prohibits most nonessential activity outside the home from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. in counties in the strictest tier of the state’s reopening road map. It begins Saturday.

On Thursday, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly did not address youth sports during a news conference where he discussed a statewide limited stay-at-home order from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., which goes into effect from Saturday through Dec. 21.

Orange County had nine new deaths due to COVID-19 reported Thursday by the Orange County Health Care Agency, bringing the county’s death toll to 1,537 people. There were 582 new cases, for a cumulative case total of 67,167 people.

There were 304 cases hospitalized, with 83 of those cases in intensive care units. An estimated 57,326 people have recovered to date.

Estancia High School football players stay socially distanced during Thursday's practice.

Estancia High School football players stay socially distanced during Thursday’s practice.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Local football teams are currently in Phase II of workouts, where athletes can participate in “pods” or small groups of no more than 15 people, including coaches. Practices are strictly no contact and social distancing rules must be followed, though equipment may be shared within the group. Workouts may take place indoors, also in pods and wearing masks.

Corona del Mar football coach Dan O’Shea has had the Sea Kings, coming off CIF Southern Section Division 3 and CIF State Division 1-A titles, practicing at Bonita Creek Park since early September. O’Shea, part of the section’s advisory council for football, said he was on a two-hour Zoom meeting Thursday with CIF officials.

O’Shea said he has been trying to keep the team’s hope up, while admitting it was “hard to believe” there was going to be any football by January with the current numbers.

“It’s so tough with the lack of direction from the state right now,” he said. “It’s really getting frustrating for everybody involved, for sure ... [but] we’re in the third surge [now], Thanksgiving’s going to be the fourth surge and Christmas will be the fifth surge, right?”

O’Shea said he would propose starting on March 1, and create one season for all sports that would last through the end of the school year.

Seniors from Corona del Mar, Edison, Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Marina, Mater Dei, Newport Harbor, Pacifica Christian O.C. and Santa Margarita signed or committed to continue playing their sport with a college on fall signing day.

Estancia football coach Mike Bargas said the Eagles have been practicing in Jim Scott Stadium, using trash cans instead of defenders.

“We try to run a semi-normal practice,” he said. “It’s different, but we’re still able to get some stuff going, maintaining that six feet of space. We’ll call a play, and the offensive line spreads out super-wide. It’s a weird deal ... [but] we’re going to stay the course. I talk to Mike Halt, our principal, and until he tells me that we can’t go out there and practice and lift, we’re going to keep practicing.

“We’re the only normalcy that these kids get every day. For a lot of these kids, sports is the reason why they go to school.”

Fountain Valley coach Chris Anderson said that the Barons were fired up when practices began again in early September, and again when Phase II was implemented later in October.

“Obviously, there’s still a lot of uncertainty with moving back to the purple tier,” Anderson said. “But overall, our kids have been great. They’re very resilient, and they just want to have an opportunity to play and have some hope. My mindset is, I’m going to prepare a timeline until the timeline changes. We’re going to prepare, until someone tells us otherwise, that we’re going to kick off on Jan. 8 and try to keep that level of optimism up.”

Luis Nuñez is trying to do the same as he enters his ninth year guiding Ocean View.

“If [the state doesn’t] say anything, I’m probably just going to issue the gear,” Nuñez said. “We were talking about that as a staff. It’s just finding ways to keep the kids going and positive. The kids need us more than ever, right now.”

Here are the latest cumulative coronavirus case counts and COVID-19 deaths for select cities in Orange County:

  • Santa Ana: 12,830 cases; 323 deaths
  • Anaheim: 11,438 cases; 333 deaths
  • Huntington Beach: 2,945 cases; 87 deaths
  • Costa Mesa: 2,283 cases; 45 deaths
  • Irvine: 2,261 cases; 14 deaths
  • Newport Beach: 1,367 cases; 26 deaths
  • Fountain Valley: 691 cases; 21 deaths
  • Laguna Beach: 280 cases; fewer than five deaths

Here are the case counts by age group, followed by deaths:

  • 0 to 17: 5,196 cases; one death
  • 18 to 24: 9,995 cases; four deaths
  • 25 to 34: 14,400 cases; 21 deaths
  • 35 to 44: 10,664 cases; 41 deaths
  • 45 to 54: 10,811 cases; 119 deaths
  • 55 to 64: 8,090 cases; 212 deaths
  • 65 to 74: 4,096 cases; 303 deaths
  • 75 to 84: 2,188 cases; 334 deaths
  • 85 and older: 1,676 cases; 502 deaths

Updated figures are posted daily at For information on getting tested, visit


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