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New locker room awaits Fort Knox Football

by Mike Mathison

The News Enterprise
Fort Knox | May 8, 2020

There are a lot of tentacles regarding COVID-19.

While states are slowly opening up — baby steps — schools and athletic facilities are still closed and the date to reopen has not been announced.

While virtual graduations are the norm for the Class of 2020, the classes of 2021 and further await — most with baited breath — when they get to go back to school, back to teachers, back to friends, back to band, back to cheerleading, back to school clubs and back to sports.

 

Fort Knox football coach Wes Arnold, entering his third season, like pretty much everyone, is going a touch stir crazy.

 

Well, that’s probably underplaying it.

But Arnold has a surprise awaiting his football team — a surprise that everyone knows is coming, yet everyone has to wait.

The football locker room has undergone a transformation that was long overdue.

“It was built in 1982 and it hasn’t really been touched since then,” Arnold said. “I’m probably the most excited about this. When we played at home in August it was a home field disadvantage. We were getting dressed on a metal building without air conditioning and the away team was getting dressed in an air conditioned gym.

“The kids are gonna love the new lockers and the new look.”

The team members have already seen the new uniforms, new helmets and new weight room — but the locker room is still under wraps.

The reveal was already to have happened.

“This is torture for me and the kids. What has been done is amazing,” Arnold said. “I have a video made throughout the process and been taking pictures on my phone. So I have all this stuff, including a before and after video, and we had a Zoom meeting about a week ago and I left it up to the team if they wanted a virtual reveal or do it as a team when all this is over.

“They wanted to be together and see it as a team and I thought that was a great answer. A couple players texted me that they changed their mind and wanted to see it virtually. I told them that the team had voted. They understood. They just want to see it as badly as I want to show it to them.

“Everyone who has worked on this has done a first-class job. It’s gonna be a better reveal in person. I know it will.”

 

The earliest possible reveal date is June 1.

While Arnold said there are many people to thank regarding this project, he said on top of the list are Superintendent Dr. Youlanda Washington, Principal Lonnie Gilmore Jr., and Supervisor of Facilities Operations Tony Vinson.

“Dr. Washington and Mr. Gilmore have done a really good job getting behind these athletes and bringing things up to date,” Arnold said. “I can’t say enough about what they’ve done for all our kids on base.

“This has been a two-year process since I got the job. Tony Vinson is the one who really spearheaded the project. This has been a long process and he has been there every step of the way. This is not as simple as a school board voting on it. He deserves all the credit. He’s the one who made it happen. He’s been there through all the bureaucracy paperwork. This was going to happen last summer and it got delayed.

“When January rolled around and we started having walkthroughs I felt it was close to being started. When I got the text that it was good to go, everyone around here was excited. The company came in and did a first-class job. It’s unbelievable and Tony Vinson has been great from start to finish.”

In addition to this new addition — so to speak — Arnold also is waiting to see the new additions to the football program with the yearly transfers and the Army’s plans, announced in February, to activate V Corps Headquarters by the fall with more than 600 additional soldiers.

“We’re real excited about that, too,” Arnold said. “They’ll start arriving in June. They were delayed a little bit because of the travel ban. We’re excited about the additions. We have a lot coming back, too. I hope we’ll be able to expand our team. We had almost 50 last year and hopefully we’ll be over that this year.

 

“At sometime, this summer is going to be here.”

Until then, like everything else, it’s a waiting game.

“We’re definitely in a total holding pattern,” Arnold said. “Obviously, everyone’s safety has to come first. When they give us the go-ahead, it’s gonna be awesome for everyone to get back together and show off the first-class facility we get to use.”

On the field, the Eagles have “12 to 15 key contributors” coming back, including Xzavian Salter-Zanders, Deondre Sparrow, Corey Brown, Jayden Thorpe, Novelle Francis and Kaden Dwyer.

“We have four of our five offensive linemen back and our whole backfield back,” Arnold said.

Salter-Zanders and Sparrow combined for 127 carries, 727 yards and three touchdowns. “We lost some good kids through graduation and PCS.”

Also lost via graduation are 18 of Fort Knox’s 22 touchdowns during last season’s 3-8 mark.

“The year before we lost all but seven yards and we made it work,” Arnold said. “That’s part of being at Knox. We have guys coming up, so the cupboard’s not bare. Usually, this time of year I’m laying in bed going, ‘What are we going to do?’ I’m still panicked, but not as much as I usually am.”

Arnold’s nerves quiet down when he understands that every team is in the same boat.

“For once, we’re all kind of even,” he said. “We started lifting and had done it for about a month when everyone stopped lifting. When we start again, everyone will start at the same time. We’ll start with a decent amount of returning players and we’ll start fresh better than we normally do.

“Everyone will have a crash course to get ready for the season. The teams on our schedule were senior-loaded last year, so they’ll have to break in some younger kids in a short amount of time. I think that may help us, also.”

 

Arnold said his squad is doing what every other high school athlete is doing this time of year.

“We’re doing virtual team meetings, like everyone else is doing, and we have a Google classroom where we post workouts,” the coach said. “We’re in more of a unique situation because the base is like a small town and has their own police force. It’s a small base and if you’ve got a group of kids playing basketball or football somewhere, the military police is going to find you. I feel the kids are under more of a microscope.

“Everyone is at home right now, so if there is a bunch of kids together doing something, the MP is going to get a call. You have to trust your kids to do what they’re supposed to do.”

Entire Article Online with pictures


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