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.”