Questions surround Owls Football as Spring Ball is Cancelled
Sam Tapper – Sports Writer
While the entirety of collegiate spring sports seasons has been cancelled across the country due to COVID-19, college football teams are feeling the impact as well, as they will not be able to gather for their period of spring practices.
The Owls are coming off a 2-8 season that saw both ups and downs. While they struggled in many games to put together a complete, consistent outing, there certainly were bright spots.
Quarterback Jackson Ostrowsky, a true freshman, took over the starting job mid-season and etched his name in some record books. Running back Jonmichael Bivona, a sophomore, worked his way from the scout team into the starting role, proving he can be a force in the running game during his rookie year.
The spring season was going to be used as a time to get the team extra training and work out many of the kinks they had last year so that they can get right to business come August. However, like every team across the nation, that opportunity has been taken away.
“It’s certainly a disappointment. [The Spring season is] a very important time for football as you get a chance to slow down and get a chance to really teach what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Owls’ head coach Tom Godek. “So, not having that, there’s a little bit more mystery out there on your depth chart, some of the things that you feel confident players can do and some things that you want to work on.”
At Southern, spring ball is typically a period of practices with work ranging from strength and conditioning in the weight room, film room sessions and practices on the field, according to Godek. The current circumstances leave question marks all-around for the 2020 football season.
For spring season in college football under normal circumstances, the NCAA allows 15 total practices, the start of which is left up to the coaching staff according to Godek. From that starting point, football teams have a certain amount of days to complete their practice program, before the time limit on the countable athletic related activities (CARA).
Leading up to spring season, players are allowed two days off per week and there is an eight-hour maximum that they can practice per week, amounting to about two-hours of activity per day, according to Godek. However, once spring season hits, the team is allowed more time with its athletes.
“For football, at least, the spring season actually turns into an ‘in-season mode,’” Godek said. “When spring practice begins, we begin on April 1 and finish by April 30, it’s like October, basically. Now [players] have to have one day off per week and there’s no more than four hours of activity during a day.”
The circumstances offer a big learning curve for both players and coaches alike, not unlike the learning curve students and professors are experiencing across campus through the transition to online learning. Fortunately for the Owls, they have a young, adaptable core, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
While Ostrowsky and Bivona made arguably the biggest impacts on that side of the field, the Owls also have a young receiving core, led by sophomores Izaiah Sanders, who caught 37
passes for 636 yards and two touchdowns, and Jaylyn Cundiff, who caught 25 passes for over 300 yards and a touchdown while also serving as their primary returner on kicks and punts.
“We have had the ability to do some remote communication,” said offensive coordinator Chris Bergeski. “It’s a positive really, I don’t really see it as a negative. Those guys have been great in the communication that we’ve had throughout the weeks in regards to getting through some meetings online and having the ability, even though we can’t get on the football field, we can get a lot done.”
According to both Bergeski and Godek, the coaching staff has been able to conduct some online meetings and film sessions via platforms like Zoom and WebEx, which is still allowing the team to get better while not physically running plays on the field.
Before spring ball was canceled, Godek and his coaching staff had a lot of optimistic views headed into the 2020 season.
“When you look at some of the things that we have, we’ve got some experience coming back in a lot of spots on both sides of the ball,” said Godek. “We lost some seniors that made contributions, for sure, but there was a lot of youth out there last year, and that’s one of the important things about spring practice is that you get to go over some of the errors that happened.”
Godek said he is noting the level of uncertainty not just around Southern football or college football in general, but throughout the world during this pandemic. He said that there will be many new developments around college athletics once this is resolved — some good, some bad.
One positive he said was that the use of programs like WebEx and Zoom to conduct meetings with players is a tool that can be utilized moving forward, keeping a player from having to walk to Moore Field House in the rain or having a player have to race there and back to Buley Library in time for class, study time or an exam.
However, he also mentioned that he does not know what will come as a result of this, like if future incoming players and current players alike will need additional medical clearance and/or documents to be able to play.
When asked of their opinions on if a 2020 season would happen, both coach’s answers differed, as Bergeski sounded optimistic.
“I believe so. It’s obviously not anything in my power in making those decisions,” he said. “I think if everyone does their part and does what everyone’s telling them, we’ll have the opportunity to do that. But I think there’s going to be some adjustments, some hurdles from here on out along the way.”
As for Godek, he did not give a definitive answer, presumably because there are so many question still left unanswered. However, he stuck to his message that he has also been telling his players: this pandemic is bigger than Southern and bigger than football.
“I know as much as everyone would like to be out there, from the coaches to the players to the fans,” Godek said, “we all want to ensure the safety of everybody who enjoys these events. Whether it’s athletics or a concert or a play, or just going to school, everybody wants to make sure we’re in the safest position possible to enjoy them.”