La Grande Football Practice-1.jpg

La Grande’s Kaden Burgess practices at La Grande High School on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. The Tigers open the season at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 10, at McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater.

LA GRANDE — The Pendleton football team’s season opener Sept. 2, at La Grande has been canceled because of COVID-19 precautions.

“We had some kids who had it before practice started,” La Grande Athletic Director Darren Goodman said. “We are just taking precautions in bringing them back properly. There are OSAA rules with players having so many practices in pads and such. We didn’t want to put people in situations they weren’t ready for.”

Goodman let Pendleton Athletic Director Mike Somnis know of the change Aug. 23.

“I wanted to give them as much time as I could to find something else,” Goodman said.

Somnis said the Buckaroos are in search of a Week 1 game.

According to La Grande head coach Rich McIlmoil, a number of his players who had COVID-19 late in the summer have not recorded enough practices to compete in the season opener. Athletic trainer Brook Jorgensen monitors players heart rates and lung condition prior to returning from COVID-19.

“I work closely with her to make sure our kids are healthy enough to go full speed,” McIlmoil said. “It comes down to making sure we have kids healthy and in a good spot to play.”

La Grande’s protocol involves participation in a minimum of nine practices before a player can compete in a regular season game. A number of athletes on the team did not meet that minimum, which ultimately played a role in the cancellation of the opening game.

“Most of them are healthy, it’s about getting them to that point where they can play full speed now,” McIlmoil said.

According to McIlmoil, the cancellation of the opener is a preventative measure to ensure the health and safety of the athletes involved throughout the entirety of the season.

“That’s my big thing, I don’t want to put the season at risk and get kids in a bad spot early in the season,” he said.

The game had been the season opener for both squads in the four seasons prior to the pandemic. They didn’t play in the spring of 2021.

Pendleton has historically dominated the series, but La Grande won two of the last three contests, including in 2019 when the Tigers routed the Buckaroos 36-14 to kick off what became an undefeated state-title winning season.

La Grande’s next game is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 10, a Greater Oregon League battle at McLoughlin.

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