The Butler football team takes the field before a game this season. Collegian file photo.
DEVIN ABELL | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Following the cancellation of all Butler spring sports, it was anyone’s guess on whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic would continue to loom over the fall semester. Throughout the summer, all sports seasons were in question, but the Butler football team worked in anticipation for a fall campaign.
As soon as the team was allowed, they returned to campus in early July to begin their summer camp. However, COVID-19 made this year’s summer camp different from those in the past. First-year players were not allowed to join the team at the beginning of camp and would have to wait until August before being allowed to practice with the team.
Along with not being able to get acclimated to the program before the start of classes, building locker room bonds with new players could prove to be difficult with COVID-19 safety protocols.
“The first-years only began practicing with us for about a week, and I’ve only had the opportunity to meet about three of them,” redshirt senior wide receiver Brad Huth said. “I feel bad for them because summer camp is when you begin to build bonds and camaraderie with your teammates.”
Redshirt junior cornerback Devin Aguilar is a returning player from last year’s team who attended summer camp. The team and the university applied safety protocols to ensure the players’ and team’s well-being during their camp.
According to Aguilar, procedures included filling out daily health forms, undergoing physical evaluation, temperature checks and wearing masks around Hinkle and the workout facilities.
Drills were set up with cones to keep players separate from one another to maintain social distancing. Contact drills during camp were non-existent.
The team has yet to see any full action on the gridiron since their last game of 2019, with spring ball being cancelled and summer camp regulations limiting the team’s types of practices.
Even now, the team is still doing what it can in order to fully prepare for the upcoming season, even though it will occur in the spring instead of fall.
“It shows a lot of leadership and dedication to getting back on the field,” Huth said. “It feels like forever since we’ve last played in a live situation. Our guys are eager to play again.”
Throughout the early parts of the summer, there were signs of the pandemic beginning to slow down and trend towards life returning to a state of normalcy. With this in mind, the university and the Pioneer Football League began looking to carry out the season as per usual.
In late June, Butler announced that it would take on South Dakota State in the season opener on Sept. 5. This action taken by the university suggested that the Bulldogs would play their usual set of out-of-conference games prior to PFL conference play.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic continuing on, this led to the PFL needing to make changes in scheduling to make player safety a priority. On July 27, the league announced that no out-of-conference games would be played, which was followed by the postponement of the rest of the games on Aug. 7.
Months of steady progression proved all for naught. The season suffered the same fate as the spring sports did the prior semester.
To some of the players, including redshirt junior quarterback Sam Brown, this came as a shock, as they thought their season wouldn’t be consumed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“When all the spring sports got cancelled, we felt bad for all those programs who lost their season,” Brown said. “We never imagined this situation would spill into our season in the fall.”
For many players who have put years of hard work into preparing themselves to play at this level, the sudden news took an emotional toll.
“It was heartbreaking, not being able to play one of your last years for a sport you love,” Aguilar said.
With the season being cancelled for the fall, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for any team to suspend workouts and training for the time being to figure out their next steps.
The Bulldogs, however, aren’t just any team.
For days following the announcement, the team continued on their regularly scheduled practice routine, even going so far as to get their morning workouts in before the sun was up.
“We have a lot of guys who love to play the game,” Brown said. “We have a possibility to play in the spring and we want to be ready — we’re not going to take days off.”
The team still plans to meet multiple times a week for field work and weight training, along with additional team meetings for film and other various purposes. However, with the university implementing a shelter-in-place order, all athletic facilities are currently closed and football activity has been halted for the two week time period.
Although this puts a pause in the team’s daily operations, they aren’t discouraged by it and will work with the university and higher organizations in order to resume football operations.
“It’s up in the air for now. We’re going to have to take it day-by-day,” Huth said. “We’re going to have to follow whatever guidelines Butler, the PFL and the NCAA decide on.”
As of now, there is no clear distinction on what will transpire in the coming weeks for the team. Even if football operations take an extended leave of absence beyond the two weeks, Brown said the team is determined to use whatever time they are given to be ready to play in the spring.
Although this situation might be seen just as a hiccup for some players’ college careers, for veteran players, time is of the essence.
As Huth enters his final season as Bulldog, he plans to remain focused for one last go-around on the game that has always been a part of his life.
“My mindset hasn’t changed — whether it’s a game or a scrimmage, I’m going to give it my all,” Huth said. “I’ve been playing this game since second grade, it would be weird if it just stopped.”
While some players may be blessed with a little more time than Huth, it still throws a wrench into the progress they have made as individual players.
For example, Aguilar will now have to wait a little longer to meet the newly-set expectations, but with the extra time to train and hone his skills, he said he’s up for the challenge.
“It makes me hungrier,” Aguilar said. “I’m eager to get back onto the field and prove myself again. The goal is to keep improving and get bigger, faster, stronger.”
While the season being postponed may seem, at face value, to only provide negative outcomes for the coaches and players, it does in fact have some positives as well. While the Bulldogs will have to wait for spring for season play, many of the players are taking advantage of the unusual amount of free time to work on academics.
The ability to add more credit hours has enabled Huth to pursue a masters’ program through the Lacy School of Business.
“I actually got lucky with it getting pushed back because it allowed me an opportunity to get a Masters degree in accounting,” Huth said. “I’m now able to reach my required hours in order to take the CPA exam for accounting.”
Along with Huth, Brown was also able to put more focus towards his requirements for his degree.
“With the season being postponed I’ve already started making changes,” Brown said. “Since the LSB requires two internships before graduation, this extra time in the fall allows me to look for an internship to help complete that goal.”
Although the team can only focus on the present, they are mindful of what problems the future can hold.
If the season were to resume in the spring, questions arise on what the PFL would do regarding the fall 2021 season.
A main concern players have is the toll it will take on their bodies with the shorten amount of recovery time in between seasons. Brown — who played through a nagging MCL injury during the 2019 season — said he understands how much work goes into recovery and getting up to playing speed.
“I injured my knee last year and I’m still at about 95% getting back normal,” Brown said. “A major injury can take you out of both seasons.”
Only time will tell what will unfold for the PFL and Butler football. For now, though, the team will band together and continue to push on in hopes of having a season this school year. Brown says there are two ways they can handle the situation, and he is willing to only accept one option.
“You can either get down about it or get better — and this team will get better.”