Lions look to future

Lions head coach Joe Polamalu says the Lions will return to varsity next fall after the successful JV season the team just completed. (photo by Ned Hickson/Cottage Grove Sentinel

Some teams have had a more difficult time this athletic season as a result of COVID-19. For the Lions’ football program, it was already going to be a rebuilding year with a coach who was new to the school. However, the added stress of the pandemic affected participation, and Coach Joe Polamalu, along with Athletic Director Matt Myers and other school staff, made the decision to play junior varsity for this season.

Rather than compete beyond their means, the Lions got some much-needed experience this season to begin to rebuild their program and, fortunately, it is a year where no one’s records would have been normal.

Polamalu said he was grateful for the time he did get with his players this season, as it helped to set a strong foundation for what will hopefully be a more normal season in the fall. Now that football is over, Polamalu is encouraging his players to continue athletics this school year.

“From here on out, a lot of sports and other events are coming into play,” he said. “I was sharing with [my team] how important I think it is for them to participate in other activities, and to stay in a very competitive state of mind and stay active.”

Next school year, Cottage Grove will return to playing varsity football, which everyone was hoping would be the case.

“We will go varsity,” said Polamalu, “this was just kind of one of those situations, I think we were young and inexperienced, but next fall is next fall, it’s back to normal. That’s our push. We had a long time to spend with our current 25 to 27 players, really to implement a lot of things, and we’ve just got to get back to work in the beginning of July.”

One major benefit the coach will have is that he is not losing any seniors in the next school year, and all of his returning players will have had this season’s experience of practice and bonding under their belts as a unit.

While it was a short season, Polamalu and his players made the best of it.

“Technically, we were together for nine weeks, and the last three weeks we played,” said the coach. “But we got to know each other, and the routines, expectations and drills, and all those things that hopefully as we come into [next year], expectations are somewhat in place.”

Above all, Polamalu is hopeful that sports in general will return to some semblance of normalcy.

“Information will be coming out as far as dates of workouts and participation, and we’re really pushing hard to get kids out and involved and back in a similar routine during the summertime, following the OSAA calendar year,” Polamalu said.

At this point, the Cottage Grove football program has a better foundation laid than it has in recent years and, moving forward — provided the pandemic doesn’t throw further wrenches in the game — Polamalu is on the road to success with his team.

“As far as looking farther down the road, we’re always saying, ‘Okay, it’s going to be back on schedule,’ but you know as well as I know that things could change day to day or week to week,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m looking at that old schedule, and I know what time to show up, I know what time we’ll start. And until somebody says ‘No,’ we’re moving.”

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