By: Demitri Matenopoulos
The Shenandoah football team is experiencing something that no one saw coming … a fall semester without football. This has caused major effects on the team’s entire schedule for the semester, which was originally planned around the season. Some of the coaches and players said this is their first time without a football season in years.
“This is the first time in 14 years that I’m entering a fall without playing or coaching football,” said Defensive Backs Coach Byron Mitchell.
On July, 21, 2020, the announcement was made that the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) would not have fall sports due to COVID-19. There was a great mix of emotions among players and coaches, most being very disappointed about the season being postponed. Pat Ritchie, who is the junior kicker and punter for the Shenandoah University Football team, was given a unique opportunity to play college football having only played for one season in high school.
“To me this whole football thing was a gift and for COVID to take it away just sucks,” Ritchie said.
It is a weird adjustment for the players who have grown so used to having football be a part of their school life.
“It’s hard to be productive now because you usually work everything around football,” Ritchie said. “It kind of feels like I’m doing nothing all the time.”
Although this has made his schedule less stressful, sophomore defensive lineman Josh Leach said that he “misses the hurt” and “constantly reminisces on last season.” He even misses the dreadful parts of practice like running sprints and backpedaling up hills. “Walking back from practice tired and exhausted is one of the most bittersweet feelings ever because you feel accomplished,” Leach said.
It has been especially hard on the players and coaches who have grown accustomed to the team concepts of camaraderie and communication. Day by day, the players find it harder to connect with their fellow teammates without risking their school and personal safety due to COVID.
“It’s a heck of a lot harder to communicate with underclassmen with all the guidelines in place,” said senior kicker and punter Ross Barker.
Added Leach, “I really miss the connections I made when the whole team could be in a classroom together to watch our film.”
But not all things are bad about not having a season. The majority of the team is in agreement that this gives them a great opportunity to improve in the weight room, classroom, and as football players.
Barker is using this time to increase his course load from 15 to 18 credits. Barker looks to make the starting lineup in his senior year and “to be a positive influence to all my teammates.” Barker also had a positive outlook on the road ahead for Shenandoah University Football. “This is a great opportunity for everyone to step up and hold themselves accountable,” he said.
Leach mentioned how the cancellation of the season has made his class schedule a lot smoother. As a conservatory student, Leach regularly gets out of class and arrives half way through football practice and has to then rush to salvage the rest of practice. For him, this new arrangement has been an ideal adjustment to his schedule. “It’s kind of a relief knowing that I’m not missing practice,” said Leach. “It allows me to be more focused and locked in on school.”
One thing that everyone can agree on is that this entire experience has made them value football more than ever. Throughout talking to the players and coaches, there was no shortage of remarks about how much they miss the football atmosphere and being out on the field with their “family,” as Coach Mitchell said.
This spring will certainly be a situation to keep an eye out for as the Hornets look to secure an ODAC championship when they potentially return to gameday in January, in a season that will put everyone to the test mentally, physically and emotionally. As Leach said in the final moments of his interview: “Lets go kick some ass.”