Warkentin Stadium at San Marcos High is one of many on-campus football venues in the state that will sit empty on Friday nights this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy photo)

The Friday Night Lights were supposed to be switched on tonight for many Santa Barbara County high school football teams.

The stadium lights, however, will remain dark in California because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If all goes well in bringing the virus under control, football and all of the other prep sports scheduled for the fall are supposed to return this winter in the CIF-Southern Section’s two-season calendar — football on Jan. 8. 

Andrew Jones, the head football coach at Lompoc for the past 10 years, said, “It’s just an eerie feeling” not practicing and playing football right now. He then added that because of the smoky air caused by the several wildfires in Northern California, “We probably wouldn’t have played anyway on Friday.”

Across the nation, 12 states played high school on Friday, according to the websites FootballScoop and MaxPreps. They are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah. Utah actually started last week.

Six other states are scheduled to kick off next Friday (Aug. 28), and three others plan to start on Sept. 4.

Friday would have been Week Zero of the CIF schedule. Those teams playing games would get a bye week later in the season.

It’s a weird time for anyone involved and associated with high school football.

“We got to get back to some sense of normalcy, where we can plan not just for football but all sports as safe as we possibly can,” Jones said.

It’s a Friday night football game that brings the school population together for a night of fun. And the first game serves like a celebration for the start of the new school year. It also rekindles memories for parents and alumni.

Here are some of the things we’ll miss on Friday nights.

We’ll miss seeing the fired-up teams in their brightly colored uniforms rushing onto the field and smashing through the extra-large paper sign that was painted by the spirit squads.

We’ll miss hearing the band or a gifted student singer performing the national anthem, and the players hoisting their helmets overhead as the final line, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” is played.

We’ll miss standing up for the kickoff, and the tri-tip, hamburgers and hot dogs being barbecued outside the snack bar.

We’ll miss seeing the coaches wearing their matching team shirts, pacing the sidelines and yelling for substiutes to get in the game.

We’ll miss the cheerleaders performing the intricate routines that they’ve been practicing for several weeks, and we’ll miss some of the chants that have been used at football games for generations.

We’ll miss the screaming from the student sections and the griping from the alumni sections at the stadiums.

We’ll miss the PA announcers stumbling over the tough-to-pronounce player names.

We’ll miss the ball boys — future high school football players — tossing and catching the game balls from the referees.

We’ll miss the gathering of the players with their families on the field after the game.

We’ll miss the eye black smeared on the faces of defensive players to make them look more intimidating.

We’ll miss the start of the fourth quarter, when players raise their hands and show four fingers, indicating this is the quarter they own.

We’ll miss Noozhawk’s weekly game predictions.

Most of all, we miss the excitement of the competition, the players going after it at 110 percent for the love of the game and school pride.

Jones said he loves football and looks forward to the day he’s back on the field with his team.

“We try to be as optimistic as possible,” he said. “I just need some football in my life at some point.”

So, with no football until January, Noozhawk asked area high school coaches on how they’ll be spending their Friday night for the next four months.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

Josh McClurg, Santa Ynez: “It’s hunting season right now.”

Doug Caines, Dos Pueblos: “I will be spending time with the family. With two of my three kids in school and the stress of it all, Fridays are family fun nights and a chance to de-stress as a ‘team.’” He then joked: “I don’t think I can get the pre-game speech out of my system on fall Fridays, however. So, the 5-year-old is gonna have to dig deep and get in the game.”

Andrew Jones, Lompoc: “I’m going to be hanging out with the family; I guess we’ll have movie nights with the kids. … Maybe playing some golf and doing some fishing.”

JT Stone, Santa Barbara High: “What I’ll be doing on Fridays is what I’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and that is watching film and breaking down film, and getting ready the best I can. It just sucks that we can’t play. We’re just getting ready for December the best we can. That’s all we can do. 

Jason Fowle, San Marcos: “I will be spending this Friday night just as I’ve spent most Friday nights during quarantine: sitting on the couch with my family, watching a movie and eating popcorn … hoping that our players will get the chance to play this season.”

Tom Crawford, Bishop Diego: “Frankly, I hadn’t thought about it. Suspect my Friday nights will be spent surfing for sports on ESPN. Feels odd for sure.”

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Barry Punzal, Sports Editor

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at bpunzal@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.