HOWELL — At long last, after a roller-coaster spring and summer, football is here.
For first-year Howell coach Brian Lewis, it’s a chance to see what he’s got in the Highlanders as they take on his old team, the Plymouth Wildcats, in the season opener at 7 p.m. Friday.
“I’m so excited for our kids,” he said Thursday. “Our kids have just been working so hard for three, 3 1/2 months here. For them to be able to go out on the field and play in front of their parents, play in front of people in the community, is very exciting. They deserve it with all the hard work they put in.”
But their audience will be limited by the coronavirus. Only two fans per participant will be allowed in, including players, cheerleaders and coaches. No one will be allowed on the hill opposite the press box outside John Dukes Field.
The game will be broadcast on The Livingston Post, starting at 6:50, and it also will be live streamed on the National Federation of High Schools website, which requires a subscription.
Despite the conditions dictated by the virus, senior tackle Grant Porter is among those raring to go.
“I’m glad to get out here,” he said Thursday. “It’s a miracle to be out here. Just going through what we had to go through to get out here, the opportunity to even play is great.”
And, on a philosophical note, Porter found a positive in a negative, that being a crowd much smaller than the thousands who normally pack the Howell stands on game night.
“You play Howell, and it gets crazy here,” he said. “I mean, we have the best student section in the state. But it will be like going back to junior football for a lot of us, just having our parents around. I think there’s going to be a lot more focus on the game and a lot less distraction from the fans.”
As for the Wildcats, whom Lewis led to the KLAA West Division title last season, there will be a lot of familiarity.
“I know they’re going to be a competitive group,” he said. “I know that, because I know those kids. I know how they compete, so I know they’ll be ready to rock and roll tomorrow.
“It’s not exactly how you draw it up,” he said, referring to meeting Plymouth in the opener in what was originally the fourth game of the season. “Game 4, it was going to be an emotional game and a challenge and all that stuff. It’s not exactly how i drew thing up, but that’s life, right? Since March, it hasn’t been what anyone has drawn up.”
Lewis replaced Aaron Metz, whose contract was not renewed after last season.
“I live in Pinckney, which is a lot closer (to Howell) than Plymouth, and Howell is a one-school, one town community,” he said. That’s in contrast to Plymouth High, which is on the same campus as Canton and Salem high schools. “This has been a really fun community to be a part of. They’ve really embraced change ere and everybody in this community loves football. They’re all pushing in the same direction, and that’s really important. That was intriguing.”
As for the competitive juices flowing at game time, Lewis said, “the juices are already flowing. They don’t wait for 7 o’clock. I think that, for coaches, you get to 7 o’clock and things calm down because you can just go play. So the juices have been flowing since June. We’re excited about the opportunity.”
Those who are able to attend the game will note some changes at John Dukes Field. New lighting has been installed, as well as a new track and fencing around the stands. The parking lot has been repaved as well.
While Howell is on the field, Brighton is not.
The Bulldogs’ opener with Novi was cancelled due to a Covid-19 outbreak at Novi High School.
Oakland County health officials closed the high school for Thursday and Friday and cancelled practices and games through Monday,
“You just never know,” Lewis said. “Every day is a blessing to be out here with these kids and these *(coaches). It’s been really good to get out here. Get us to tomorrow, get us to 7:00, and we’ll be happy campers.