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The Hillsdale College Chargers practice in groups of eight at what Otterbein called “not football football practice.” Calli Townsend | col­legian

Despite season delays and restricted practice pro­tocols, the com­manding officer of Otter’s Army — Hillsdale head football Keith Otterbein — said he remains opti­mistic about the year. 

“We are going to follow what the rules are and get the best out of whatever we can,” Otterbein said. 

Cur­rently, NCAA rules allow teams to resume practice on Oct. 12 in prepa­ration for a sub­stitute season this spring, though Otterbein said this may still be subject to change. 

Senior Cole Johnson said this news hit the team hard at first. 

“There was def­i­nitely a dis­ap­pointment at the start, but now we are just rolling with the punches,” Johnson said. “There are no other Division II schools that are playing right now, so there is no point com­plaining about it. We just have to move on.” 

The NCAA also recently announced that players this spring will not use a year of eli­gi­bility. This means seniors could poten­tially return in the fall for another season. 

COVID-19 restric­tions have been infringing on the football team’s practice and game time since the very beginning. The Chargers left campus for spring break antic­i­pating a return to play spring ball, but instead, they not only missed spring ball, they also missed their summer intensive football camp. 

“Usually we come back before school and it really is just get up, play football, eat, play football, go to lunch, play football, go to dinner, study football,” Otterbein said. “It’s a really intense three weeks and it really accli­mates the freshman and allows them to learn the culture.”

As of right now, NCAA guide­lines allow teams to train as if this was the off-season. This means no more than eight hours of coach-lead training ses­sions per week and players must stay in their groups of eight, called “pods” at practice. Team seniors, including Martin Petersen, also lead vol­un­tarily, team-only prac­tices at least once a week to maintain skills and morale. 

“I think the morale of our team is great,” Petersen said. “Everyone is excited to be together. I think it is cool as a school that we get to be here, and for us to have the oppor­tunity as team­mates to be together is great. And as leaders of the team, we wanted to get together every Sat­urday and workout and con­tinue to run some plays and get better.” 

Michigan lim­i­ta­tions on gyms have also hin­dered the team’s training capa­bil­ities. Since team members weren’t able to lift in the gym, they brought the gym to the team. 

Mitch Shoeborn, Hillsdale’s strength and con­di­tioning coach, oversaw bringing all the weight equipment out onto the field so that players could con­tinue to grow their strength in the off-season. 

When the Chargers return from fall break, Oct. 12, they can resume mostly normal practice. This will be the first time the team has been all together with the coaches to train. Coaches and players antic­ipate the approaching date. 

“It all comes down to October 12 when we get to practice as a full team to see how our season is going to go,” Johnson said. 

During that time, the team can practice together 15 times and actually play football for the first time. Then they will end the “fall season” with indi­vidual meetings between coaches and players to delineate expec­ta­tions for next season. 

The team will treat this fall as a mock spring ball training season to prepare for the sub­stitute season in the spring. Otterbein said one of his biggest worries is Michigan weather in the spring. 

“Even in April, last spring, we had snow ‚” he said. “We are going to be prac­ticing out there. We will plow the field and get out there, but it’ll be cold.” 

Petersen said that, despite all the delays and restric­tions, the team is just happy to have a season to look forward to. 

“It’s not been an easy process because we were all thinking that at this point we would be playing football,” Petersen said. “But we can only control what we can control. So, for us, we are attacking every­thing like we never know when we could get a call that we are going to be playing. It’s been a dif­ficult process, but our guys are responding well.” 

And despite the thought of snowy winter prac­tices, Petersen said he remains pos­itive and speaks for the team about the upcoming season. 

“It’s true, there is a big dif­ference between snow in Feb­ruary and the heat of August,” Petersen said. “It’s going to be cold, but we are going to embrace whatever happens. We just want to play football.”