By Jeff Weisinger
Special to S.F. Examiner
Players of the Galileo High School football team woke up Monday morning eager and anxious to — finally — take on Mission in the semifinals of the 2018 CIF San Francisco Section football playoffs.
Instead, they received a message in their group chat that they’ve become too familiar and frustrated with: the game was postponed. Again.
“Everyone’s really anxious, really excited to get out there,” Galileo head football coach Marcus Blacksher Jr. said on Monday. “Every morning they’re all over the air quality, checking it, seeing if we’ll be able to play or if we’ll be able to practice.”
The smoke from the Camp fire in Butte County has affected the air quality all throughout the Bay Area. It’s forced sports on every level to postpone or cancel games and move their practices. By the time the Lions play their semifinal game against the Bears, it will have been more than a month since they last played – a 52-18 loss to undefeated Lincoln back on Oct. 20.
“When you don’t have a game for a month, you get a little frustrated because you get excited to have a game,” senior captain Jimmie Edwards said.
The Lions’ following game against Washington on Oct. 26 was forfeited and they had a bye week afterward. Their regular-season finale against Balboa was one of the first games to be originally postponed, then cancelled.
“It’s the same as last year,” Blacksher Jr. said, referring to the smoke- and ash-filled air resulting from the October fires in Napa and Santa Rosa in 2017. “The only difference is that last year we had a big senior class, and they were really good leaders and were able to keep the guys focused. This year, we’re a bit younger and they’re a bit wilder and they just want to get on the field.”
Galileo is just one of many Bay Area high schools whose playoff schedules were affected by the poor air quality. Their semifinal game against Mission was originally scheduled for last Friday, then Saturday, then on Monday. It’s now scheduled for Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Galileo, with Lincoln hosting Balboa across town, also at 2 p.m. If the games aren’t played this Friday, this Saturday would act as the backup date.
In order for the games to be played, the Air Quality Index has to be below 125, per section guidelines. The AQI surpassed the 270 mark on Friday, and on Saturday it was at 179. On Monday, it was at 171.
The team was forced to practice in the gym last week. They focused on the mental side of the game, running through their scheme at a fraction of what they would do on the field. Monday was the first day in the last 10 that the Lions were able to practice outside.
“It was a quick change because one day you’re on the field and the next you’re indoors in the gym,” senior lineman Rafael Oropeza said. “It’s more time to practice and get everything done and sharp.”
“It’s been good and bad,” Edwards added. “On the good side, a lot of players are getting healthy and conditioned. On the bad side, we could be a little rusty, but we shouldn’t because we’ve been practicing for a month.”
The month off has allowed for two of Galileo’s key players to return from injury – Oropeza and senior quarterback Ronald Fox. Oropeza tore his meniscus in the team’s season opener at Hoopa Valley and Fox sprained his ankle in the loss to Lincoln.
The time off has also allowed the Lions to experiment, as well as prepare for their upcoming playoff run. Galileo beat Mission 42-36 at home last month, scoring 18 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to seal their then-fifth win of the season.
“It’s been like training camp,” Edwards said. “We’re putting new things in, new schemes, working on all of our opponents, Mission and Lincoln if we see them again. It’s really just been that.”
Galileo is hoping that the extended practice time will pay off in Friday’s potential semifinal. The team has been playing against each other for the last month and are very eager to go up against someone else.
“It’s been hard for them,” Blacksher said, “waking up every morning, hoping they’ll get out on the field and they’re not able to. But mentally they’re locked in.”
“Football, people say, is 80 percent mental,” he added. “We’ve been able to train mentally so we’ll see how it goes.”