When four-star recruits Najee Story, Mac Uihlein and Caleb Tiernan all committed to Northwestern this spring, it became clear that the 2021 football recruiting class would be one that stands out among the rest. Now, the group not only stands out for its talent but also for the unprecedented circumstances they will face during their senior year.
Never in sports history have high school football players had to overcome their fall seasons being canceled or minimized at such a large scale. The senior night that every athlete deserves and the chance to play for their hometown one more time for a state title along with the opportunity to go on official college visits were all taken away from the class of 2021 in the wake of coronavirus pandemic.
And for some athletes, the lack of a season could be a deciding factor in their future and ultimately lose them the opportunity to play at the next level.
“I’m disappointed for my brothers on the team that football is their outlet and escape from everything else in life and for some the only way to get to college,” said 2021 Northwestern commit Brendan Sullivan.
For future Northwestern running back Anthony Tyus III, the cancellation of his fall football season hit on a deeper, personal note.
“The most disappointing thing though is not being able to play football with my little brother XaVior Tyus on varsity,” he said. “We would’ve been in the backfield together for the first time ever and maybe the only time ever.”
While the decision to cancel fall athletics may have been a setback for many, it hasn’t stopped some like Caleb Tiernan from getting better each day — and the state of Michigan’s guidelines have allowed him the chance to play in a limited setting.
“We do an hour of conditioning and then our school was able to bring weights into our field house so we take that outside to lift for position work,” he said. “Michigan allows our coaches to have more personal workouts with four players.”
Najee Story and Aidan Hubbard are two commits from Ohio, where the state decided on a maximum six-game schedule that allows every team to qualify for playoffs.
Unfortunately for Story, his high school is currently not allowing football while the school only offers virtual learning. On the other hand, Hubbard’s high school remains hopeful to play half their season, after missing three football games due to COVID-19 cases.
While each commit is faced with their unique obstacles, they all share one common goal: to be prepared for when they arrive on campus. But at this point, no one knows when that time will come.
A potential spring season could impact the decision of early enrollees. Because of this uncertainty, tight end commit Lawson Albright has had to prepare for every possible situation.
“I have my schedule set up though so I will have all my credits that I need to graduate early in case North Carolina decides to cancel football this year,” he said. “At the same time I am taking enough classes at my high school to maintain eligibility for the spring sports season.”
During this time of uncertainty with decisions fluctuating day by day, it can sometimes lead to a lapse in communication, but all of the commits were quick to say that has not been the case with Northwestern.
“I actually think I have talked to coaches at Northwestern more during this pandemic than what I normally would because the coaches have had a lot more free time with football being postponed,” Albright said.
Between Zoom and phone calls, the Northwestern coaching staff checks in with the commits around twice a week. Those meetings were looked at as a highlight in a lot of the commits’ day during this unsettling time.
Ultimately, while the young group of Wildcats will face all types of adversity during their senior year, it will only make them stronger by the time the arrive on campus ready to begin their college athletic careers.