Veteran Alter coach cautiously optimistic about 2020 football season

Every time Alter football coach Ed Domsitz talks to his 92-year-old mom Joyce she asks him the same question.

“Are you going to have a season?”

“Mom, it’s the same as it was two days ago,” Domsitz tells her. “We don’t know for sure. We think so.”

Domsitz is cautiously optimistic the 2020 season will go on as planned, but he hopes he's not unduly optimistic. High school athletes returned to workouts on June 1, and starting Monday, athletes in full-contact sports could conduct intrasquad scrimmages but still weren't allowed to play against other schools.

About two months before the high school football season begins, however, there are still many questions about the fall season ahead. The coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in the cancellation of the winter sports championships and the entire spring sports season, has created that type of uncertainty in many areas of life.

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“If we’re going to have football, we’re going to have to jump in with both feet,” Domsitz said Tuesday. “There’s no halfway with football because there is contact. We’re going to have to see how that plays out. What happens if one person tests positive? Does that close your entire program down for two weeks? Or do they increase testing? Test the next day, test three days later or whatever? And that’s an expensive process, too. I don’t know how that’s going to play out. I don’t think anybody knows for sure.”

Domsitz turns 70 next month, so he knows he’s more vulnerable to COVID-19. He wears masks on the field and in the weight room, as do his other coaches, but he knows that’s no guarantee.

Alter is scheduled to open the season Aug. 27 at Fairmont. It also has a game in Belfry, Ky., the defending Class 3A champion in Kentucky, in Week 3. That’s 235 miles from Kettering. Domsitz knows that game could be a problem if the virus spikes in that area.

“Uncertainty is probably the key word,” Domsitz said. “There’s just a lot of things to be decided.”

Alter finished 7-5 in 2019 and reached the playoffs for the 19th straight season. Domsitz has coached the program since 1999, and this is his second tenure at Alter. He led the Knights to three playoff appearances in seven seasons before leaving in 1988 to coach at Northmont.

This will be the 45th year as a head coach for Domsitz, and he’s never seen anything like this. He went 2½ months without seeing his players in the spring. The team had a couple of Zoom meetings, and Domsitz could see some of his players had gotten bigger and stronger by working out at home.

While workouts have resumed at the high school, Alter is allowing no more than nine players in the weight room at one time. They have three lifting sessions a day, and that means three different coaches have to oversee the sessions.

In years past, if an athlete was working out at a different gym, Alter coaches would still require the athlete to participate in some of the sessions at the high school with the rest of the team. They have scrapped that rule this year because of the limitations on how many people can be in the weight room at one time.

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With the Ohio High School Athletic Association allowing schools to move into phase two of the return-to-play plan this week, Alter players have worked outside on the nuts and bolts of pass routes and coverages. Teams are allowed to run 7-on-7 drills this week, but Domsitz said Alter has asked him to wait until next Monday to start that.

Assuming the 2020 season gets played, Alter should have a strong group. Among the college prospects is junior defensive back C.J. Hicks, who committed to Ohio State in May.

“He’s got a lot of talent,” Domsitz said. “He’s a heck of an athlete. Like a lot of kids who come into Alter, they’ve got to adjust, and in the period of adjustment, there is a demand academically and behaviorally and so forth. C.J. went through that period. I think his grades have been improving considerably, which has helped. I think he’s taking everything more seriously.”

Even after committing to Ohio State, Hicks was still getting recruited by other schools and announced an offer from Clemson on June 2. Then on June 21, he wrote on Twitter, “My recruitment is shut down. Forever a Buckeye.”

While Hicks got his decision out of the way, several of his teammates are in the middle of the process. Derrick Shepard, a defensive tackle in the 2022 class, has received offers from Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State a number of other schools in recent months.

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Junior Mike Lantz is the second-ranked long-snapper in the nation in the class of 2022, according to

Running back Branden McDonald, a member of the 2021 class, has received offers from Army and Navy this month to go with a number of previous offers.

The pandemic has not hurt the prospects of the players who were already getting recruited.

“The difficulty we’re finding is not promoting those guys,” Domsitz said. “Everybody knows about those players. It’s the players who are marginal, who needed to go to these summer camps at these colleges. We’ve got probably half a dozen at least of those kids, who have some decent size and athletic skills. They needed to be able to go to these camps and show these colleges what they can do on the field and let these coaches eyeball them, and they didn’t get to do that. That’s a problem. It becomes much more important for them to have some good scrimmages and to be able to play exceptionally well in those first few ballgames, so they can get some of that video out there.”

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