GV football moves on from heartbreaking cancellation of season opener


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Holly Bihlman, Sports Editor

The Grand Valley State University football team has spent the past two years putting in serious time and work as the 2021 fall season begins. Their first game, scheduled to be at home on Thursday, Sept. 2, never came to be in a heartbreaking and frustrating turn of events. The worst part is that the Lakers did everything right to get to this week, but still turned up empty-handed on Thursday evening.

What was originally supposed to be an electrifying return of the tailgating, the fans and GVSU football at Lubbers Stadium was unfortunately spoiled by COVID-19 on Edinboro University’s football team. Their vaccination rates weren’t high enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and resulted in several athletes being in quarantine.

What started out as a rescheduling of the game for Saturday, Sept. 4, was only briefly relieving for the Lakers and head coach, Matt Mitchell, until they eventually found out it was altogether canceled.

“I don’t know what else happened; I don’t know the depth of it and at that point in time, it didn’t really matter the scenario and the reasons why, it was just canceled,” Mitchell said. “That was obviously really frustrating and my message to our team was that they did nothing wrong, in fact, they did a lot right. There’s a way to avoid these situations and that’s by teams being vaccinated, and that was the most frustrating part for us.”

When Mitchell got the phone call from the head coach at Edinboro, Jake Nulph, he was assured that their issues with COVID-19 would be resolved by Saturday, Sept. 4, so the GVSU Athletics made the decision to publicly reschedule the home game.

“I was a little incredulous when they said they were just going to move it basically 48 hours,” Mitchell said. “You know, it’s like, that’s interesting just given COVID protocols, but the head coach told me that and we had assurances that it was going to be played, so that’s why we made it public and we told our team that it was going to happen.”

Only a few short and dizzying days later, Mitchell received a phone call from the director of athletics, Kerri Becker, breaking the news that their season opener against Edinboro was officially off the table. However, that didn’t mean there wasn’t still hope for a new opponent, so everyone on the football team and several GVSU Athletics members got to work on social media and otherwise, desperately looking for a willing opponent.

“The cancellation of the game was zero thought in my head this year,” said sophomore quarterback, Cade Peterson. “I thought that we were kind of moving past everything and then all of the sudden that got thrown on us and it was a bit of a surprise for a lot of people.”

After a few days of searching, it finally began to dawn on the team that no one was going to be able to make a Saturday game work, and the disappointment set in. During that team meeting, Mitchell told the players that there wasn’t going to be a game to play this weekend and received a lot of slumped shoulders and sighs.

“All summer, all spring, all fall camp we were saying that we’ve got to be ready for the opener,” Peterson said. “Having all that built up emotion and excitement—getting that taken away was definitely heartbreaking.”

Instead of letting everyone go home to be upset about the news, Mitchell decided to have practice right after the team meeting, and it ended up being a productive practice for the athletes both physically and mentally. Now, with the initial response to the cancellation of the season opener having passed through the team, their focus is shifting and adapting to their new target: Colorado State-Pueblo.

“We can either sit here and complain about it or we can just look for the next opponent or to the next week,” Peterson said. “If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be, we just have to focus on the next thing if there’s nothing we can do to change it. We don’t want that to happen again, but we can’t go about the whole season thinking about, ‘what if this does get canceled;’ we have to focus on how we can prepare and beat every team on our schedule.”

Now, with only ten games in the season instead of eleven, the stakes are higher and the pressure is on.

“The concern is that a lot of teams make the most progress between game one and game two, and we don’t have that opportunity,” Mitchell said. “Colorado State-Pueblo is a nationally ranked program that played a really, really tight game last night (Thursday, Sept. 2). So yeah, we’re at a disadvantage.”

The fear now is that the cancellation of games could be a reoccurring issue. At this point in time, the GVSU football team is 91% fully vaccinated, leaving just nine percent with one shot awaiting a second one. Mitchell expects the team to be 100% vaccinated within the next two weeks, but that’s only what GVSU can control.

“I’m concerned about potential future cancellations because I just know that there are teams out there on our schedule—and I don’t have facts about this—but I just have a hard time imagining that they have the vaccination rates to try and avoid these situations,” Mitchell said.

Just this past weekend, only two out of the 80 Division II games scheduled for the first weekend in September were canceled due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean these numbers are going to stay the same as the seasons change. However, the mindset that the Lakers seem to have is that there’s only so much GVSU can control this season, so making the most out of every practice and every opportunity is going to keep them motivated and hungry for the rest of the season.

On Saturday, Sept. 11, the Lakers are scheduled to play Colorado State-Pueblo for Stars and Stripes Night at Lubbers Stadium to redeem their season opener and come back from a tough week with fighting spirits.