Last year Coach Don Herman and his high school football team had to play their season in the middle of winter, the pandemic pushing the normal fall football season to a February start.

“It was the most miserable of my career,” Mr. Herman said on a recent September afternoon while his team warmed up before practice. A mid-70s day with a glorious blue sky and hint of a breeze all served to underscore how this season would be different in every way. But it wasn’t the weather he was referring to. It was the uncertainty.

“The Covid protocols of last year, the last-minute cancellations, you never knew when a player would have to be pulled,” the longtime coach recalled.

But at least football had a season. All the other fall sports had to resort to intramural play, not traveling off-Island, not playing league games. This fall will be different, though, looking a lot like 2019, the season before the pandemic, said athletic director Mark McCarthy.

“There are no limitations this year,” he said. “Last year was bad, no one will debate that. We are trying to get back to normal.”

Players will have to wear masks whenever indoors — on buses, in locker rooms — but since all fall sports except unified basketball are outdoors, once play begins it will be no restrictions, he said. Fans are welcome at all games, too.

“We ask people to be smart,” Mr. McCarthy added. “If they want to wear masks we welcome that.”

Most teams begin their seasons this weekend, with home and away games across the board. Football opens with an away game on Friday evening against Seekonk. The first home game is Sept. 24 against Capital Prep-Harlem and the Island Cup is scheduled for Oct. 30 at Nantucket.

Scout leads the field hockey team during conditioning run. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Coach Herman, who is in his fourth season after coming back from retirement, is looking at a young team he has to mold quickly.

“We have just one senior offensive lineman, Kaleb Hatt,” he said. “And we are staring three sophomores on the offensive line.”

Starting quarterback Atlas Zack is a senior but this is his first season leading the team.

“You can’t replace game experience and football knowledge by playing Madden,” Mr. Herman said, referring to the popular video game.

But already the team has had three scrimmages and steadily improved in the off-season Mr. Herman said. His coaching staff comes with a lot of experience, with most of the coaches having played for Mr. Herman when they attended the regional high school. The addition of Albie Robinson, a former head coach off- Island who moved to the Vineyard this year, has helped immensely, he added.

But despite the changes — in coaches, players, pandemics — Mr. Herman rolls with the times by sticking to the basics, a foundation that has served him well since he started coaching in 1988.

Soccer teams look to youth and experience to build on previous years. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“I’m old school,” he said. “I believe in discipline, conditioning and developing character. That’s the big picture. That and having fun. And when you win, it’s a lot more fun.”

Field hockey coach Becky Nutton is in her fourth season and is also working with a young squad. There are only two seniors on the team, Lila Mikos and Lily Sebastian, plus the fastest team member is under a year old. Ms. Nutton’s border collie puppy Scout, new to the pitch this year, serves as unofficial warm-up leader, herding the girls through early season runs and chasing down errant balls at practice.

Last year, during the intramural season, the team played half-field games so this year is a first for many to have to navigate, and run, the full field. Field hockey does not have a feeder program like most of the sports do on the Island, so incoming freshman start with the very basics.

“Day one is how to hold a stick and going over the rules of the game,” Ms. Nutton said, adding that this year she began a summer program for middle schoolers to introduce them to the sport.

But despite the inexperience of incoming players there is a bright side, she said.

“It’s an opportunity for a fresh start. To try a new sport.”

Field hockey gets underway on Friday with a home game against Nauset at 3 p.m. and another home game on Saturday against Norwell, beginning at 11:30 p.m. •

Cross country team opens up on Sept. 18 with annual invitational tournament on the Island. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The girls soccer team opened its season on Tuesday, falling 3-0 to Archbishop Williams. On Wednesday, Coach Rocco Bellebuono had his team going over strategy while also focusing on recovery. The team plays four games in less than a week.

“You don’t have a lot of time to train as you have to recover,” he said.

But with a very young team — Isabelle Murphy is the only senior on a lineup that has four starting freshman — teaching technique and tactics is key, he said.

“This team has good soccer IQ,” he added, noting that despite the first game loss he is optimistic about the season. “They have a real opportunity to reinvent things culture-wise,” he said as he looks to take the program into its first winning season in a few years. “That is a powerful message.”

The girls soccer team plays at home on Saturday against Whitinsville Christian School, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Coach John Walsh of the boys soccer team is also working with a young team, but it’s a team he knows well.

“There is a core of kids this year that I have had contact with since they were six years old,” he said. “Since mini-kickers.”

Mr. Walsh has his own experience with the program to guide him too, having played on the team when he was a student at the regional high school, graduating in 1991.

The team has had a stellar pre-season, he said, recently winning the annual Nauset tournament, taking town Nauset, a perennial division two powerhouse, in the finals.

“We are expecting big things this season, as long as I don’t get in the way and let them express themselves,” Mr. Walsh said. “We have some kids who are magical with the ball.”

“It’s a cool melting pot,” he continued. “There are the wizardry ball skills of the Brazilian players and the more pragmatic game of the American kids. We have an Italian player, and everyone learns from each other’s styles. And most important, they have fun when they play, which is really fun to watch.”

Boys soccer plays at home on Saturday against Norwell, beginning at 11:30 a.m. 

Cross country opens its season with the annual Cross Country Invitational on the Vineyard on Sept. 18. Veteran coach Joe Schroeder said he is looking forward to the season and is happy with the summer training. Many runners use the Chilmark Road Race to help jump-start their training, which saw a host of his runners earning top spots, include senior Zack Utz who placed sixth overall.

The teams also have big running shoes to fill. In 2019, the boys team won the Division II state championship. The girls team also qualified for states in 2019, coming in 10th. A few members of both those 2019 teams are back and hungry for off-Island competition after last year’s intramural season.

“The team is small in number but filled with experience,” Mr. Schroeder said. “Especially on the boys side.”

For season schedules for all sports, visit the new site: