After more than a year away from competition, the Lords football team has begun its spring training.
With upperclass students coming back from a long hiatus and COVID-19-related restrictions in place, coaches and players have a lot on their minds. As a contact sport, football presents unique challenges when it comes to safely managing the virus. Practices normally filled with blocking, tackling and helmets now consist of minimal contact, social distancing and mandatory mask wearing.
Head Coach James Rosenbury believes these hurdles have actually helped him and his staff become better mentors. “Football coaches, like most people, are creatures of habit and comfort so we do the things that we know and are comfortable [with],” Rosenbury wrote in an email. “The pandemic has forced us outside of our comfort zone and allowed us all to grow in a lot of different ways.”
Unable to run some of the drills that football teams typically rely on, squads are digging deeper into the “why” of how they run practices. Coaches are redesigning exercises to keep their value, while minimizing contact in the process — like tagging off opponents instead of wrapping up.
In addition to these precautions, the scheduling of spring training looks different this year. During a typical spring, collegiate football teams are allowed 16 padless practices over a five-week period. To make up for lost practice time and help avoid injuries when teams return to intercollegiate play, the NCAA has updated its spring training protocols: Teams can now practice a total of 24 times over six weeks — this time with pads. The Lords hope to end this extended practice time safely so that they can play an inter-squad scrimmage down the line.
In some ways, however, the long gap in play has presented the biggest hurdle. After a 26-game losing streak, the Lords went 3-7 in the 2019 season. With a largely new coaching staff and victories finally appearing on its record, the football team was building some momentum. When the team couldn’t practice last spring, this success was in danger of fizzling out.
“The inability to have a full team on campus has been one of our biggest obstacles,” said Rosenbury. “Consistently staying in touch via Zoom and Google Meet with one another in order to maintain the chemistry and culture that we started to build in 2019 has been essential.”
To help reacclimate players to the rigors of the sport and maintain the team’s new culture, upperclass students are taking particularly active roles. Unlike some Kenyon sports teams, most seniors plan to graduate this semester after losing out on their coveted final season. Not wanting to simply walk away from the program, a number of seniors have taken assistant coaching positions for this spring. “This has been incredibly helpful for our staff,” Rosenbury said. “It has been a way for them to continue being a part of Kenyon Football while also giving back.”
The Lords plan to resume NCAA competition this fall. For scheduling updates, visit athletics.kenyon.edu/sports/football/schedule.