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Central Gwinnett head coach Jason Thompson and his players pose for a photo at Gwinnett Football Media Day on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Duluth.

DULUTH — This time last year, there was plenty of uncertainty about what the 2020 high school football season would look like throughout Gwinnett County and the entire state of Georgia.

In fact, it still wasn’t even 100 percent certain that the season would happen at all as the COVID-19 pandemic was still very much prevalent.

Eventually, the season, albeit a condensed and slightly delayed one, was played and completed, but a year later, the atmosphere surrounding Gwinnett County football seems a bit more like normal.

The return of the Gwinnett County Public Schools Football Media Day on Tuesday provided further optimism that the upcoming 2021 season will have more of a look and feel of most football seasons.

“It’s just an opportunity to promote our kids, to do something nice for our kids and our coaches,” said Discovery High athletics director Chris Hall, who coordinated Tuesday’s proceedings at 12Stone Church’s John C. Maxwell Leadership Center. “I think (GCPS athletics director Ed) Shaddix mentioned earlier (in his address to players and coaches and gathered media) that there was a lot of uncertainty a year ago. As we led through the return of school and play, it’s a big deal. So this is just a small way to give back and have those experiences for those kids.

“What is normalcy is kind of interesting and has kind of shifted slightly. I mean, things may not always be normal. There are also things we’ve found during the pandemic … areas where we thought we could do better in that we’ll probably keep – some of the hydration (guidelines) and some of those other things that were probably things that were a good idea. But I think just the ability to come together and work though things, we talk about overcoming adversity all the time as a coach. There’s no better example than this past year.”

Indeed, many of the coaches already saw participating in Media Day as something of a reward for three or four of their players, often seniors and/or team leaders.

That sentiment seemed even stronger given the events of the past year.

“It was really fun. It was really cool,” said Mill Creek senior defensive back Donovan Journey, one of four players chosen by head coach Josh Lovelady to represent the Hawks at Tuesday’s event. “(Being selected by the coaches) really kind of caught me by surprise.”

Journey joined three of his teammates and nearly 70 players representing 17 of the 19 GCPS schools — Berkmar and North Gwinnett were unavailable because they were attending a camp at the University of West Georgia, on Tuesday.

In addition to numerous interviews and photos from local media, Tuesday’s event also included remarks by Lanier grad and current Carolina Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown.

While the fun activities provided a needed break from the offseason conditioning and work from this summer — another sign of a return to normalcy — at least one coach acknowledges that another adjustment back to a more usual schedule will hit shortly with the return to in-person classes when the 2021-22 school year begins in a matter of weeks.

“I think (an even bigger) step is going to be next week when … the kids walk into school (for the start of preseason conditioning and practice),” Meadowcreek head coach Jason Carrera said. “They’re obviously going to feel a big piece of normalcy, but you’ve got some ninth-graders who haven’t walked into a high school ever in their lives. Some kids have been 14 or 15 months (since) being in a school. So to have that is going to be a big difference.”

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