BRADENTON, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — High school senior J.J. McCarthy is on the football field doing what he loves.
But he is doing it a long way from home.
“It was really hard leaving my friends and teammates and coaches,” said McCarthy.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, football is not currently allowed in J.J.’s home state of Illinois.
He transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida so he would not miss out on his last year on the field.
“It is really disappointing that we were not able to finish out senior year with the people I have been playing with so long,” McCarthy said.
Sixteen states are not allowing high school football. That has led to rallies around the country – with coaches, parents, and athletes frustrated they can’t play.
“You worry a lot about depression. The psychology part of it. It is a huge thing for those kids,” said Illinois football coach Darrell Crouch.
For many high school athletes, especially seniors, not playing isn’t just about losing a season of football. It is about their future and losing scholarship money.
“It is actually hard because it is my last year. I have no scholarships and no offers. This is my last shot to get offers. It’s really hard,” Illinois senior Darius Beckum said.
The Centers for Disease Control calls “full competition between teams from different geographic areas” the “highest risk.”
But the National Federation of State High School Associations says precautions are lowering the risk.
NFHS Executive Director Dr. Karissa Niehoff says less than two percent of the thousands of games played so far have needed to be cancelled because of COVID.
“We just have to understand and embrace patiently that we are recovering at different rates. But where the metrics are low enough, and all of those strategies are in place, the education has been provided, I think it is appropriate to let kids come back to play,” Dr. Niehoff said.
Niehoff says most parts of the county back to playing are taking strict precautions.
At IMG Academy in Bradenton, protocols include temperature screenings for students and visitors, plus mandatory mask wearing.
“With everything here, I almost feel overly safe…I’m having a great time because we are playing football. I have the greatest time when I am playing this awesome game,” McCarthy said.
While being away from family and friends is not how he envisioned ending his high school career, he says it’s better than the alternative and not being able to play.