He knows five people who've died from COVID-19. Will he play Texas high school football this season?

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Humberto Barrera is conflicted.

He wants desperately to play his senior football season for Rio Hondo, just like every other student-athlete wants to play fall sports for their school as scheduled. But he isn’t sure if it’s the best move right now for he or his family.

Barrera has already lost five people he knew to COVID-19, including an uncle.

His high school is located in Cameron County down in the Rio Grande Valley, which, as of Monday evening, had the 10th most COVID cases in Texas with 7,827 (177 deaths). Hidalgo County, which borders on its west, is 6th in the state with 15,153 confirmed positive cases (467 deaths).

“I’m a senior and I know my dad didn’t play his senior year. He always talks about how he wished he would have played his senior year,” he said. “I’m really on edge, but more than likely I’ll push to the side of playing this year.”

Barrera has some time before he has to make the final decision. Rio Hondo is a 4A school, which means its first practice, per the UIL, could be Aug. 3 with Week 1 games beginning Aug. 27-29.

However, because of the level of outbreak in and around Cameron County, the county has pushed the start of school back to Sept. 8 and the first day of face-to-face practice won’t be until Sept. 14. That’s only if things don’t change from here.

“We were supposed to start Aug. 3 so the UIL didn’t give us the same timeline they gave 5A and 6A, which was very upsetting,” Rio Hondo head coach Rocky James said. “But it is what it is. We were hoping to get that same timeline, which would really give us a good shot at playing the season.

“I think the [county] judge is probably going to step in and move [the starting school] date to maybe Sept. 27. The further it gets pushed back the less likely there will be a season to begin with.”

That’s a sobering thought for any student-athlete in the state, but such is the unfortunate reality of life as we know it right now.

Whenever that time does come, Barrera said that many of the teammates he’s spoken to about it are considering not going to practice for a couple of days, or even a week, ‘just in case they cancel again or in case there is another outbreak.’

Barrera said it was hard for some of his teammates to justify spending money on new cleats and other football apparel knowing that they might not be able to get put to use.

“It’s hard to put money into it this year in case it stops again,” said Barrera, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound running back and linebacker.

These types of decisions are weighing heavily on James’ mind right now. Every day he thinks about his players and what they are having to experience.

“My wife knew five people that have passed away from COVID,” he said. “It’s for real and the people that don’t think it’s for real don’t know what they’re talking about. This thing is really, really tough and I’m sure it’s weighing heavily on these kid’s minds because they are saying we can get back together on Aug. 14, and I’m sure there will be a lot of kids scared and a lot of apprehension on getting back together, being in a locker room together. At least in school, they can separate them as much as possible; but our area, kids are going to be together.

“What if one of my linemen gets sick? Are we going to have to shut down all the linemen for 14 days, or 10 days? How are you going to play a game without linemen? I worry about it every day for these kids. I really do not know what the answers are going to be. All I know is that if they keep pushing this start date, the less likely we’re going to have a season.”

James is also concerned about the player’s loved ones once they return home from practice, whenever that time may be.

“Their parent’s safety comes first, obviously, and their grandparents,” he said. “I have a lot of kids that live with their grandparents, like anyone else; a lot of kids with multi-generations living in the house. We don’t want anybody getting sick, and down here it is really, really bad.”

Bad enough that student-athletes like Barrera are contemplating not playing this fall.

“It’s real,” he said. “Your grandma, your grandpa, your mom, your dad could die from this. Your little brother. It’s just sad.”

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