NEW BRITAIN — As a former football player, Isaiah Boddie understands adaptations are often required whether it’s during the week of preparation for an opponent or on game day.
Now, in what has been anything but a normal offseason, Boddie is putting that philosophy to use. The 30-year-old New Britain and CCSU graduate is set to enter his first season as New Britain High’s new head football coach and has been trying install his version for the program all while to navigate to difficulties of the coronavirus pandemic and sudden stop and goes as the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and Department of Health have attempted to figure out if there was to be a football season or not.
“As a coach, you can’t be too high or too low,” Boddie said. “You have to be steady. Even with things not going the way you want it to go, during times like this you have to enjoy the day and the moment, and give each day and moment your best. In football, you have to worry about the play at hand. That’s what we’re trying to do. During this time, you really have to focus on today. We tell the kids we’re going to give everything we got today, because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring. We preach to the kids, ‘All gas, no breaks’ and empty the tanks. It’s about leaving it all out there right now.”
It’s been an interesting situation for Boddie, who is trying to get the Hurricanes’ program back on track. New Britain struggled on the field in 2019, especially on offense, going just 2-8 after a 9-1 regular season and postseason berth in 2018. As a program, New Britain has reached the Class LL playoffs just twice since 2007 — 2014 and 2018.
This will also be his first-ever heading coaching job. Previously the teams’ defensive coordinator, Boddie was hired to be the Hurricanes’ next head coach on March 18, beating out 24 candidates who were vying for the chance to replace Tebucky Jones, who decided to step down from the position on Jan. 16 after nine seasons to spend more time with his family.
Boddie initially planned to introduce himself to his players in the high school’s auditorium, but those plans were thrown out when the pandemic hit, shutting down schools and athletic competitions. Instead, Boddie had to shift to Plans B and C in order to communicate with his players. That meant getting creative, including trying to find out who was still interested in returning to play and which underclassmen were looking to join.
“I think being a part of football my entire life, I understand adversity hits and you have to adapt,” Boddie said. “That’s something that myself and the coaching staff have had to do. We weren’t able to meet with the kids so we had to do a lot of virtual visits, a lot of home visits to check on their well-being. It’s been a challenge to get them all together on the same page. I basically got hired at the beginning of the pandemic so I hadn’t really been officially introduced to the kids as the head coach.”
So when the CIAC initially allowed for non-contact conditioning workouts to begin on July 6, it was a welcomed change to allow Boddie and his staff the ability to communicate with his players in person. But on Aug. 14, the CIAC paused all sports activities and things became uncertain again. So as he has had to do throughout the offseason, Boddie had to adapt to the situation.
Instead of simply trying to install his plays virtually or in-person — New Britain has also brought weights outside to lift and has been conditioning along state guidelines — it’s about also been about trying to build the culture he wants his program to have, something he views as just as important as the X’s and O’s.
“We focus on the FAMILU — Forget about me, I love you — accountability and leadership,” Boddie said. “The kids are starting to buy in to what we’re preaching. They know they have to be accountable. They have to be invested to get to where we want to be and be successful. I think the kids are seeing it and separating themselves from each other and not taking anything for granted. It’s about giving everything you got and not being selfish, being leaders in the community.”
And for their part, Boddie said, his players have taken to the new coaching staff and direction well.
“A lot of kids look for structure and leadership and in the past, New Britain has flourished under structure,” the head coach said. “Kids of this nature, city kids, need structure and that’s what we’re doing as much as we can; things to look forward to and I think they thrive off of that. It’s about holding them accountable for their actions and when they are, they see that success. Obviously, when things are different, it can be difficult for some kids because they’re sued to things being a certain way, but I think the seniors and juniors are doing a real good job of showing others where we want to be.”
Of course, Boddie and his players have been hoping for a season to take place. Now, it looks like if will just be a matter of when that will actually happen.
After meeting on Wednesday, the CIAC football committee said the CIAC plans to go ahead with the season with games beginning Oct. 1. The high school sports governing body allowed conditioning to resume on Monday and until Wednesday had not yet make a ruling on whether fall sports will be played this year. Under the CIAC’s back-to-fall-sports plan, full-contact practices would begin Sept. 20 with a shortened regular season to follow. Only be regional play would be allowed for postseason tournaments. Sports would wrap up Nov. 22.
The Department of Health, however, has recommended on multiple occasions to move the football and girls volleyball seasons or to meet certain requirements, such as 7-on-7 for football, which Boddie is against, in order to be played.
“Do I think there should be football this season?” Boddie asked. “Absolutely. In the state of Connecticut, they’ve been playing AAU basketball and lacrosse and other high-risk sports, so why not football? I think not playing football will cause more harm than good in terms of kids’ mental makeup than not to play football. Our kids thrive off of structure and things to look forward to. For some kids, sports wakes them up in the morning and makes them go to class and do well in class. For them, it’s about doing well in school to play sports to get into college.”
One thing Boddie does know, when in now looks like, there is a football season this fall, his team will be ready and prepared to play, and hopefully at a high level.
“It’s a tough situation, I’m not going to lie, not knowing, but I think it makes us stronger as a program,” Boddie said. “We know we can overcome anything and anything else that comes at us during this time.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com