NORTHERN MICHIGAN — While April isn't the most important month for football coaches like Cheboygan's Dave Schulz, it almost feels like the beginning.


If you're in the Cheboygan Chiefs football program, it's the time when players can sign up, when coaches can meet with players, and when things can be discussed early on.


However, this April has been unlike any other for Schulz and all coaches around the state of Michigan who are trying to adjust during the coronavirus pandemic.


"In the middle of April we usually have our football signups in the middle school at lunch time or (the players) can see a coach that way," said Schulz, the head coach of the varsity Chiefs. "Now we're going to have to do it through phone and emailing, and it's part of the context that I'm doing right now is just checking to see kids and making sure they're ready to go for next year, or if they have any concerns.


"It's a tricky thing to do, and it's kind of learning a little bit as you go along."


Following Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order to close schools for the rest of the year in early April, as well as the MHSAA's announcement to cancel the remainder of the winter sports postseason and all of spring sports, this is indeed a very tough time for everyone.


For local football coaches, they're doing their absolute best to remain in contact with the players they were used to seeing on a consistent basis before.


What was once something routine has now turned into a huge challenge.


"It's weird because I'm a teacher so I see (my players) every day," said Onaway football coach Steve Klinge. "Whether it's giving them a high-five during the day or saying, ’What's up?’ or those kinds of things, I really didn't have to think much about contact throughout the week. I kind of keep tabs on everybody and make sure grades and all that stuff is good without really thinking about it, but now it's one of those things that you have to go out of your way, group message and all that good stuff, which you usually do during the season but you don't have to worry too much about during the offseason.


"That's the biggest thing for me is that I'm so used to being there, they can come find me or I can go get them whenever I want, and obviously it's not that way."


Schulz feels the same.


"When you lose the face time, you definitely lose the quality interactions that you take for granted every day when you're at school," Schulz said. "You see kids, you try to run into them, you see how they're doing, you check in and see if there's anything you can do to help them out with what they're dealing with. That goes on at school pretty easily. Now it takes a little bit more effort, making more phone calls and checking in and making sure everybody's staying safe and healthy.


"It's challenging, but it's the role of coaches, teachers and everybody to learn how to adapt and figure out how to keep things going and move in the right direction."


Going forward, Schulz said there will be more communication with his fellow coaches and players.


But right now, it has and always will be about staying safe.


"We haven't had Zoom meetings, our football staff will be having a Google meeting with the players, that stuff will pick up as we get closer to the summer," Schulz said. "Right now it's really about making sure that they're safe and staying healthy, that everybody is working together to follow the governor's (Whitmer) orders, keep doing everything that we're supposed to do.


"It's like (Whitmer) is our coordinator, she's got the game plan, and we have to execute. As long as we're doing what we're supposed to do, we'll be able to add in our football stuff as time goes on."


While coaches can't meet with players face-to-face, they are making suggestions to them along the way.


For Klinge, it's about staying to the basics.


"I just told them to make sure you do your pushups, pullups, situps, squats and get some running done — that's about all I've told them," Klinge said. "You can't really tell them too much. There's a few kids that have their own weights so they'll do their own thing, but for the most part, the kids don't have much. It's basically just making sure they're doing the basics, keep your lungs in shape and maybe we'll be a little bit ahead of schedule.


"I'll send out one group message a week just to make sure everyone's doing alright, let them know if they need anything, contact me or get a hold of me. Other than that, I'm basically just trying to keep them moving a little bit."


Even with uncertainty surrounding the fall sports season, Schulz remains optimistic.


"I think everybody in the state is going to do everything they can to make sure that everybody's going to be safe first and healthy to return back to school as soon as they can and play athletics," Schulz said. "We continue to target that first opening date and from that, if adjustments need to be made, we'll adjust. That's our target — to be ready for everything to start in August."


Klinge, like many, isn't exactly sure what will happen, but he's hoping for the best.


"I did (think we would have a football season) at first, but then you get online and read stuff and do whatever and then it's like, ’Oh, shoot maybe there won't be,’ but then the next it's like, ’We'll definitely have a season,’" Klinge said. "At the moment I feel pretty optimistic about it, but there's no guarantees about it.


"I have no idea."