A postponed season hasn't kept Tyson Reynolds off the football field entirely.
Still unable to take part in team-sanctioned activities, Reynolds says he and his Foothill teammates have been competing in numerous seven-on-seven, touch football tournaments in recent months. They've even found great success, with Reynolds saying his team will "usually go to the championship and take first or second place."
But even though playing in these tourneys offers both physical and mental benefits, Reynolds says it doesn't even come close to replicating the thrill of putting on the pads and going to battle on a Friday night, a thrill COVID-19 ripped away from every player in the state this fall.
"I honestly don’t feel like it gives me a return to normal because it’s touch and I think football isn’t football without the physical contact," said Reynolds, who will be a junior running back when the rescheduled season kicks off in January.
A lack of on-field contact is just one problem facing area players, who are still adjusting to a fall without football.
While some players have gotten a multitude of offers from major college programs in the past year, others, like Reynolds, have yet to get the desired looks, despite a strong performance on the field.
Reynolds, who rushed for 978 yards as a sophomore in 2019, still hopes to catch the attention of Division I or Division II coaches during his junior year, considered by many to be the most important season of the recruiting process. Currently Reynolds says he has no offers.
He isn't alone in that regard, and others in the city are running out of time to make an impression on college coaches.
Despite an excellent junior season, where he rushed for 1,300 yards and accounted for 18 touchdowns, North running back Brian Dean has had "no offers or contact with any coaches." And after adding nearly 20 pounds of muscle this offseason, Dean has grown frustrated with his inability to showcase his physical improvements on film.
"My goal is to become a D-I student-athlete," he said. "And I feel like with all the stuff that's happening, it's putting a pause for me to get where I want to go."
And while the opportunity to impress college scouts hasn't been completely taken away, standing out to recruiters in the spring may prove to be a tricky proposition.
Though some college football is being played this fall, programs that haven't canceled their seasons outright elected to move them to the spring, which would divert their attention from what is generally the height of recruiting season.
Roster spots will also be more difficult to come by. The NCAA has already awarded an extra year of eligibility to fall athletes who've had their seasons canceled, creating fewer scholarship opportunities for incoming players.
A more pressing issue seems to be coming from the academic side of things.
With students still not allowed to attend school in person, all Kern County schools are currently holding classes online. Both Reynolds and Dean say they and many teammates are struggling to adjust to the more impersonal style of learning, with Dean offering a particularly blunt criticism of the process.
"I definitely feel like it's trash," he said. "I'm a person-to-person learner. I like to be face-to-face."
Dean says the problems go beyond personal preference, citing an incident last Friday where an IT issue prevented him and his schoolmates from accessing the day's assignment.
With just one high school season remaining, Dean acknowledges that the junior college route may be his best option if he hopes to extend his football career beyond this spring. Though not ideal, he says he's confident he can achieve his ultimate goal, even if he has to take a roundabout path to get there.
“I definitely feel like I can get (to a D-I school)," he said. "Right now, I guess, is just not the time for me. I’ve just got to be patient and know that my time is coming.”
Though he has more time on his side, Reynolds says he'd also be willing to go the JUCO route if needed. But with the schedule having already been turned on its head, he fears world events may have permanently derailed the goals of some of his peers.
“Without football, I think a lot of athletes coming out of Bakersfield won’t get looked at," he said. "It can stop a lot of us from doing what we have to do as far as trying to make a way not only for ourselves, but make a way for our families as well.
"I feel like the longer that they (are keeping) us out of school and keeping us out of sports, I feel like a lot of us sports players are not motivated to keep their grades up. I feel like you’re stopping a lot of sports players from going to college and trying to create a future for themselves."