SALT LAKE CITY — Herriman High will be the center of the football universe in the United States on Thursday night.
Herriman, one of the state’s largest 6A schools located about 25 miles south of Salt Lake City, hosts Davis High on Thursday at 7 p.m. (KJZZ) in the opening night of high school football for not just Utah, but the entire country. The following night, Utah will again own the national spotlight with 50 more games on tap.
Any other year, Herriman principal Todd Quarnberg would be thrilled about hosting the opening high school football game in the country, but amid a pandemic it’s added layers and layers of anxiety that he’s been navigating with his staff.
“OK, in other years this would be awesome for our school, but this year I think it’s going to be a curse,” said Quarnberg.
Next week, six other states begin playing (Alaska, Indiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee), which will be followed by varying start dates for 28 more states between Aug. 23 and Oct. 8. Fourteen states moved their high school football seasons to next year, headlined by nearby schools Colorado, Nevada and California.
MaxPreps has assembled a complete list of start dates for all 50 states.
Jordan School District has limited capacity at football games to 25%, and that’s created ticketing and security issues that the school has never dealt with before.
“I feel like I might be overcompensating with staff at this point as far as numbers and ushers and security, but until I know that, I feel safer with them,” said Quarnberg.
Bingham High, a neighboring school to Herriman, had to cancel its Friday season opener against Weber as three Bingham players tested positive for COVID-19. The Utah High School Activities Association said no other games had been canceled as of Wednesday.
The UHSAA board of trustees voted unanimously back on July 9 to move forward with high school sports this fall. Girls soccer, boys golf, girls tennis and cross country all began their seasons last week, with volleyball and football kicking off their seasons this week.
Herriman has the luxury — which from Quarnberg’s seat equates to extra stress — of hosting that football opener. Quarnberg plans on being on the sideline masked up cheering on his team as its “No. 1 fan.”
Excluding players and game-day staff, Herriman expects to have about 950 people in the stands Thursday night. Unfortunately, Herriman’s outstanding marching band of 150 members won’t be among those.
“The feel of a traditional football game, the marching band that hypes the game and the home-field advantage, I can’t have my band there. We have 150 band members. So it will look and feel different,” said Quarnberg.
The demand for tickets has been very high, and Quarnberg said he’s heard of people “trying to work every angle to get into the game.”
When tickets went on sale Tuesday morning on Herriman’s website, it sold out in less than an hour. Quarnberg said he heard of people refreshing the screen repeatedly to be ready right when tickets went on sale, like it was a Taylor Swift concert.
Players were guaranteed tickets for their parents, and the Herriman players who didn’t make the 50-man game-day roster were also guaranteed tickets. From there, the rest were up for grabs when they were released on the school’s website.
Because everyone has assigned seating — which will help in the event that contact tracing becomes necessary — Quarnberg said he’s hired ushers for the first time ever along with additional security.
“We’ve sold in sections so we know who’s in that section by name, so if somebody has a positive test the next day at least we can identify people by sections, but that means people have to sit in their sections. Lots of variables,” said Quarnberg.
One thing he’s been extremely impressed with is how Herriman’s players have dealt with the adversity to gear up for a season opener that they’re “absolutely excited about.”
“You’ve seen our team in the preseason doing everything, masking up and doing everything they’re told, and not because Mr. Quarnberg the principal told them to; they’re desperate to have a season. That’s the feeling in the athletes here.” — Herriman principal Todd Quarnberg
“You’ve seen our team in the preseason doing everything, masking up and doing everything they’re told, and not because Mr. Quarnberg the principal told them to; they’re desperate to have a season. That’s the feeling in the athletes here,” said Quarnberg.
Davis coach Mitch Arquette has sensed similar excitement from his players about being the first game in the country.
“As a coach we’ve talked about it a few times, we’ve played it up. It’s a double-edged sword, you’re excited but you’re also hoping the boys can go out and not be too nervous being 16 and 17 years old. It’s kind of big to think about it,” said Arquette.
What hasn’t been fun is managing how to distribute tickets among players who aren’t dressing, parents, cheerleaders, administrators, student government and patrons.
“This has been the biggest pain in my neck, trying to find an equitable way of doing that,” said Arquette.
At the end of the day, after everything the teams have gone through to get to this point, they just want to play football. Even that will look a bit different as the coaches prepare to manage social distancing, water during timeouts and players wearing their masks on the sideline.
“The logistics tomorrow will be interesting,” said Arquette.