It likely will be strange.
It likely will be sad.
But for the La Salle College High School football team, there likely will be positive aspects as well to the first game of a delayed and abbreviated season.
La Salle will play football for the first time since November on Friday night when the Explorers visit Manheim Township in Lancaster County for a 7 o’clock kickoff, athletic director Joe Parisi said Monday.
“Just to be able to play football finally is just so refreshing and gives us normalcy,” La Salle senior lineman Ryan Wills said via text.
The game against a powerhouse public-school program from District 3 will mark a significant moment in what has been a difficult summer for the La Salle football program.
The school was shaken by the loss of popular senior Isaiah Turner, a starting offensive lineman who collapsed and died after practice on Sept. 4. Turner’s funeral service was held Friday on the La Salle campus.
In addition, La Salle players and coaches have been dealing with the uncertainty created by the coronavirus outbreak, as there was the real possibility that the football team would not be able to play games this fall.
“I thought at one point last week that we were going to have to pull the plug,” Parisi said.
La Salle was able to connect with Manheim Township, which also was looking to arrange games, through a Pennsylvania high school football website.
La Salle also has tentative plans to play two other games this season, against Delaware Valley High in Milford, Pa., on Oct. 2 and vs. traditional rival St. Joseph’s Prep on a date to be determined.
St. Joseph’s Prep also plans to play football this fall, although the Hawks are working through some logistical issues related to practice sites, transportation and scheduling, according to people close to the program.
“We have three games scheduled,” Parisi said. "If we can get these guys out there and have them play three games, that will be good.
“I know how much it’s going to mean to these guys to be able to play. Some of them are multisport athletes, so they’ve been going through this since the spring," when competition was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On paper, La Salle projects as one of the top teams in Southeastern Pennsylvania, with a two-time All-Philadelphia Catholic League lineman in Wills and highly recruited juniors in running back Sam Brown and linebacker Abdul Carter.
Manheim Township, which like La Salle is a Class 6A program, has compiled a 33-5 record over the last three seasons, including an 11-1 mark in 2019. The Blue Streaks split last season with Central Dauphin, winning in the regular season and losing by 35-34 in double overtime in the District 3 semifinals.
Central Dauphin reached the PIAA Class 6A state final, losing to St. Joseph’s Prep.
Manheim Township this season likely will be led by junior wide receiver Anthony Ivey, who has scholarship offers from Penn State, Arizona State, and Virginia Tech, among other college programs.
“Especially playing against a team like Manheim, it’s going to be awesome to play in a great football game,” Wills said.
La Salle players will wear two decals on their helmets in honor of Turner, the No. 74 and a Chinese symbol that signifies his initials. Turner was taking his fourth year of Chinese studies at La Salle.
“It’s definitely going to be emotional and tough to play without a brother,” Wills said of Turner, who was projected to line up at left guard, next to Willis at left tackle. "But we know he’s watching over us and guiding us through the game.
“To be able to honor ‘Zay’ by just having fun and enjoying every second we have together Friday night is what will get us through the night and the season.”