Football games are being played across the country, including Michigan high school football and Division I Big Ten teams. Division II, II and NAIA are still on the sidelines, though.
As with each of the past few seasons, expectations were high for Ferris coming into 2020. Many Bulldogs felt that this was the year they would make it all the way and secure a national championship victory. Without a season to play, sadness filled the Bulldogs.
“It hurts not being able to take the field,” Ferris junior defensive lineman Jordan Jones said. “We worked so hard all summer long and had big expectations coming into the season after falling in the Final Four to West Florida last year.”
On top of the disappointment Jones felt about being unable to play football, he also expressed frustration with the people involved in deciding to cancel the GLIAC football season.
“The way they played it out for us and how they took forever to let us know if we were playing or not just hurts,” Jones said. “We haven’t really been kept in the mix as players.”
Jones’s frustration continues as he watches other collegiate programs at the Division I level play while his Bulldogs are not allowed to play. Junior defensive linemen Brendan Siwajek believed that money allowed the Division I schools to play.
“I understand that the major Division I programs have the budget to play,” Siwajek said. “Realistically, at the DII level, we don’t have the budget to be able to support all the variables that COVID brings along with it.”
COVID-19 brings many challenges to everyday life, and Jones understood the need for safety. Division I programs have the money and resources to protect their players as best as possible against the dangers of COVID-19.
However, if money is the reason Division I schools can play, and a successful Division II program lacks sufficient funds to provide adequate player and personnel safety, Jones questions how high school programs have the money to do so. He feels that high schools are ill-prepared and “going out there blind.”
“I just wonder what these high schools and other colleges are doing that we couldn’t do,” Jones said.
Knowing that Division II programs do not make as much money as large Division I programs did not stop Jones from believing that Ferris could have found a way to ensure player safety. He believes that Division II schools also have the resources available to allow their teams to play.
Despite all the disappointment and frustration, Jones understood the decision to cancel football and knew safety was the top priority when the decision was made to suspend the season.
The Bulldogs are currently allowed to lift and get on the field for training and conditioning. Player and personnel safety is the university’s top priority, so the team wears masks and social distances when engaging in team activities. Both Jones and Siwajek credited the university and trainers for their job in keeping the players safe.
“They want us to be safe and don’t want us to battle with COVID,” Jones said. “They want us in the weight room and taking care of our bodies, and they’ve done a great job with that.”
Siwajek was grateful for the opportunity to work out with his teammates again, but these workouts brought about more confusion. He failed to understand why the Bulldogs can train together but still cannot play football.
Without football, the players have much more free time. That can be beneficial if the players elect to spend that time training and preparing themselves for the next time they take the field.
“I think this is an advantage because now there is more time that I can separate myself personally from the competition,” senior defensive lineman Sam Girodat said. “I would love to be a freshman right now because this is a great time to get a whole year to train before you even start using any eligibility.”
Instead of expressing frustration, Girodat chose to focus on the positives brought about by the season’s cancelation. He advised the young players on the team to have the same mindset and work to better themselves.
On the other hand, Jones believed that the players would be safer if they could play football.
“Since we’re not playing, we have a lot more free time so people aren’t going to take the proper precautions,” Jones said. “If we were playing, I bet a bunch of people would stay in the house and do the right thing. Some of the players have never gotten to enjoy college, so now, with all this free time, they want to enjoy college a little bit.”
Jones’s concerns with players not taking the dangers of COVID-19 seriously in the absence of football echo those of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Lawrence argued that players would be safer and less at risk of contracting COVID-19 if they could play football.
The football team’s newcomers face a difficult task to become acquainted with the Bulldogs during social distancing. Jones, Girodat, and Siwajek felt that they could be strong mentors to the young players and guide them through their journey.
“We have a lot of newcomers to the team this year, and we haven’t been able to be around them as much as we usually would be. My goal is to influence them and try to be a leader on the team to make the people better,” Girodat said.
These are trying times. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have the love and support of all their teammates and coaches.
“Our coaching staff is some of the greatest people I’ve ever been around,” Girodat said. “Every football program across the country talks about their family, but it’s really true here. Coach Annese cares about his players like no coach I’ve ever seen before.”
Not playing football is disappointing. But the Bulldogs will be back. It is difficult to know when they will retake the field and impossible to predict the future. However, when Ferris next plays competitive football, they will work towards their goal of bringing a national championship home to Big Rapids.