When El Monte football coach Jesse Ceniceros returns home from the store or running other errands, he has the same routine.
He goes to his garage, puts his clothes in the washer and takes a shower, all precautions he takes these days during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ceniceros is especially careful because his wife had a kidney transplant last year as the result of a kidney disease she has battled since she was a young girl. The anti-rejection medication she takes lowers her immune system, which puts her in a higher risk group as doctors and scientists scramble to find a vaccine or drug therapies that will combat COVID-19.
“For any virus, you have to take precautions,” Ceniceros said. “I know I’m just a football coach, but I do know the basics of how viruses work. I might have got a B in high school biology, but what I know is I’m not the expert. There are experts out there that are telling us what we should do for the benefit of everyone, to take care of ourselves and others that are more vulnerable.
“So I may not be the smartest guy, but I’m smart enough to realize there are people smarter than me, so I listen and try to do my part.”
Ceniceros had the greatest season of his football coaching career last fall. He led El Monte to a perfect 16-0 season and won the CIF Southern Section Division 12 title, the school’s first divisional title since 1930.
El Monte capped its season with the school’s first state championship by beating Crescent City’s Del Norte for the Division 5-AA title in December.
Ceniceros would love nothing more than to get back on the field with his coaching staff and hang out with the returning players. The group hasn’t been together for an organized training session or practice since March, when schools and the spring sports were shut down due to COVID-19 precautions.
But he’s not in a rush. And he said others shouldn’t be either.
In a nutshell, he said experts are guiding and advising everyone, and it’s time to listen, not complain.
Some private and public schools are allowing their teams to hold non-contact conditioning workouts under recommended precautions, such as temperature checks, social distancing and practicing in groups of no more than 10 players. The El Monte school district has not made a decision yet on when its athletic teams can resume workouts.
CIF State and Southern Section officials said they will make a decision by July 20 on how to proceed with fall sports. Will they start on time, be delayed a few weeks or months, start in 2021 or be canceled altogether?
Ceniceros doesn’t have the answers. Nobody does. He said if the school district cleared the way for El Monte to begin practices next week, he would start with whatever preventive guidelines that are suggested.
And if the football season starts on time in the fall, he said he will have his team as ready as it can be.
What he doesn’t like to read or hear are some of the comments being made by parents, players and coaches who seem to be in a hurry to get back to regular routines, often making arguments that poke fun at the dangers and disregard science and data.
“That’s my thing,” Ceniceros said. “There were a bunch of smart people that saved my wife last year, so I want to rely on the facts and data of smart people who study viruses, outbreaks and pandemics, and let them lead us.
“If they tell me, ‘you’re going to be safe, the kids are safe and my family is safe,’ let’s play. If they can’t tell us that, we have to really think about what we’re doing. I’m a head coach and I’m here for my program, but it’s always about safety first.”
Ceniceros understands that everyone wants to play, and the past few months have been challenging under stay-at-home orders.
But he’s also read stories of what’s going on around the country, with several high-profile college football teams reporting multiple COVID-19 outbreaks among team members.
“Those big-time college football programs have millions of dollars to use for precautions, testing, and I’m going to (combat) that running around with a thermometer?” Ceniceros said. “And for example, lets say we just played South El Monte on Friday night and I get a phone call on Sunday that (a player) tested positive for COVID. Do we shut down our team for 14 days? And then do we let South El Monte know and they have to shut their team down for 14 days? And how does that impact our season and their season? There are so many unknowns.”
Ceniceros wants to make it clear, though, whatever happens over the next few weeks and months, he will be ready when decisions are made.
He just hopes those decisions are guided by science, safety and not a rush to get back. Ultimately, he has faith that CIF State and section officials, and school districts, will make the right decisions, even if their decisions might not be popular.
“Look, I know everyone wants to play,” Ceniceros said. “I want to play and I’m trying to be as optimistic as possible, and if they say football is ready, I’m ready too.
“But we also have to realize this virus is greater than all of us, and the only thing that is going to beat it is listening to the experts. We have to think about the kids, our coaches, our school and our families, and do what’s right.”