GV football team resumes practices


GVL / Sheila Babbitt

Josh Carlson, Sports Writer

The theme for the Grand Valley State University football team with no season this fall has simply been to advance individuals skills and develop the football team in a COVID-19 environment. Plenty of changes have come upon the football team this fall, and head coach Matt Mitchell and his staff have had their hands full.

“I’ve been really impressed with the assistant coaches and players that have bought into those changes and are working to get better.” Mitchell said. “We’ve moved our weight room outside, we can’t have full team meetings and we can’t have our team in the locker room.”

Mitchell has opted to have smaller, socially-distanced team meetings wearing masks instead of Zoom due to how much time players are already spending intaking information virtually. This has made an already large workload on the assistant coaches and himself to make sure they are getting the program’s culture across and making sure that everything is in working order.

One of the largest sacrifices that have come out of no football in the fall of 2020 is from the seniors with the program.

“Most of my seniors are not enrolled in classes this term.” Mitchell said. “All these kids have to make sacrifices; they want to use their four years of eligibility. They are all adding another year of their lives, and people don’t understand that. That’s a tremendous amount of sacrifice for Grand Valley football, and I respect that a lot”.

Every player in the program now will also be affected. If they plan on using all of their eligibility, they will have to be with the program for six years. The seniors who haven’t returned to campus this fall are currently working and are home for the fall, waiting eagerly to return this winter.

The ramifications of not playing this season don’t just affect the team and the seniors; it might also have consequences in the future when it comes to recruiting.

“Next fall, we will have six classes here,” Mitchell said. “Typically, a college football team carries five. It’s going to effects budgets; it affects lockers; it affects helmets and shoulder pads and scholarships.”

Although this will be hard, Mitchell stated that he will sign a class regardless of the repercussions that are going to come from this lost season. Although players coming out of high school will still be given an opportunity with GVSU, Mitchell says that the number of kids who might not get a chance with other programs is unpredictable.

“I have been around here long enough to know that there are kids that make huge jumps from their junior to senior year,” Mitchell said. “In some of these states, you are not going to be able to see it. They won’t have senior tape.”

Around the country, some Division I programs and the NFL playing, but it doesn’t seem like a feasible option for a program like GVSU in Division II.

“At Ohio State right now, they have a 15-minute rapid test,” Mitchell said. “Kids take the test in a holding tank, and when they pass it, they’re allowed to go into the locker room. They do it every day, but we don’t have the resources to do that.”

Although the team will not be competing, the players feel excited to be back to workouts. With Michigan having gyms closed most of spring and summer, the players could not remain in shape and make progress their bodies into game shape. The socially-distanced drills finally give a sense of normalcy to all of the team to hone their craft.

“This isn’t basketball or golf,” Mitchell said. “A basketball player can go out and shoot hoops; you can’t play pick up football. I think they’re excited to have coaching and their connection points with their coaches lifting weights. They haven’t lifted a barbell for March through August.”

Antonio Strong, a Junior defensive back and All-GLIAC honoree for the Lakers, had difficulties with his experience during the period where he couldn’t be in the gym.

“For me, personally, it was hard,” Strong said. “I don’t own any weights of my own. I don’t like doing just push-ups and sit-ups, I like being in a weight room. I know a lot of guys on the team are like that as well. So not being able to do that, and actually have team activities to do was hard, because you had to be at home on your own schedule, not even knowing if you have a season or not.”

Strong continued to explain that although they can’t compete for this season, the feeling of finally being able to do drills and see his teammates is great.

“When we first started doing these practices two weeks ago, everyone had a big smile on their face,” Strong said. “Everyone was really energetic, and it’s still like that two weeks in. I hope we can start doing more football drills and eventually get to 11 on 11.”

While they are just getting into the swing of things now, Mitchell and the staff plan to slowly build the team up to be ready for padded practice. They have to be cognizant of how fast they work up to it to be sure that injuries are limited when they finally do get there. The types of drills, the number of drills, and the time intervals will be accounted for in their plan of action. Mitchell again states that their primary goal as a football team is to ensure everyone stays healthy from injuries, especially the virus.

When it comes to how exactly they will make sure the virus is not passed around the team, Mitchell says he will have options to look at.

“I’ll start looking at the Mid-American Conference,” Mitchell said. “We have connections there with former GVSU head coach Chuck Martin, at Miami, Ohio. The MAC is closer to Grand Valley in terms of resources than the Big Ten would be. So, we will start listening. With a network of professionals, we can glean ideas on how to do things safely.”

As practices now are in motion, the GVSU football team will continue to work and make sure that when the time comes for football next fall, they are a well-oiled machine ready to go out and win games.