By Luke Mich
On March 17, the football team traveled to play Grove City in its 2021 season opener, the team’s first game in over 16 months. Before the game, I was able to talk to a player and the head coach about the unusual circumstances this season in regard to the schedule, COVID-19 testing, and practices.
“I feel as if training never stops,” said Isaiah R. McElroy, linebacker and sophomore communication major.
Even when the season was pushed to the spring, the team regularly practiced last fall.
“It’s an all-year round situation,” McElroy said.
The team, McElroy said, started practice on Feb. 20 and have had practice six days a week ever since, with Monday usually being the day off. In addition, weekly COVID-19 testing is required.
This season has had its share of challenges and obstacles to practice.
“The whole mask thing is definitely a difficulty,” McElroy stated. “It’s definitely hard to breathe wearing those while playing.”
Another issue is the potential of someone contracting the COVID-19 virus.
“If one of our teammates tests positive for COVID-19, contract tracing [is done] and anyone that was around that person or had contact with them for a long period of time on the field must quarantine, which could potentially hurt us on the field,” McElroy explained.
However, McElroy added that the team has been preparing to adjust to this “next man up mentality” that could take place if someone tests positive.
Head Coach Aaron Smetanka also explained some aspects of training that have had to be adjusted this season because of COVID-19.
“The biggest challenges are having all of our meetings on Zoom and only having a locker room to use on Game Day,” Smetanka said.
Just like nearly every other sport played this spring, the football season too will be shortened. Whereas last season the Bearcats played 10 games, Smetanka said the team will play 5 games this season, yet the team only knows who its first four opponents will be.
“The [fifth game will be] a President Athletic Conference Crossover Opponent depending on how we seed in the south division,” Smetanka said.
The season schedule changed earlier this spring when two PAC schools opted out of playing football this year.
“When Case Western Reserve University and Thiel College opted out of the spring season our season changed by moving Carnegie Mellon University to the north division,” Smetanka explained.
So instead of playing their opening game against Carnegie Mellon, the Bearcats played Grove City.
Because of this abbreviated schedule, each football game is even more important this season than in prior seasons.
“Each and every game is important,” McElroy said. “Our record will ultimately determine whether or not we have the chance to play for a PAC Championship.”
As the season begins, the key to the team’s success this year will be how they focus on what’s in front of them instead of what’s at the finish line.
“We have to focus on each game at a time and never look [too far] ahead,” McElroy concluded.
The Bearcat football team’s next game is Friday, March 26 at 7 p.m. at Bethany. Their home opener is Saturday, April 10 at 1 p.m. against Washington & Jefferson.