For as monumental as August 11 became when the Big Ten decided to cancel all fall sports competition, September 16 felt even more historic.
The conference made a shocking move to go back on its initial decision and reinstate college football for the fall. But during the 36 days leading up to football’s return, players across the Big Ten went through a constant wave of emotions.
Northwestern football players were given a short period of time off to grieve the loss of their fall season before the hope of potentially playing later in the school year emerged. Then the unthinkable happened, and the Big Ten announced fall football’s return with the ‘Cats set to have their first game of the season in less than six weeks.
For the players, this news was the miracle that many of them had been dreaming and praying for the last month — and a miracle is exactly what they received.
“Obviously, Twitter is that first way of us getting info a lot [of the time],” defensive back Greg Newsome II said. “As soon as we got that news — I live with a few players on the team — we were so excited. We had in our mind that maybe we’ll play in January or even later than that, so when I got the news, I was so excited. We talked as a team later that day, Coach Fitz talked to us on the unity council.”
Just like that it was back to business for the ‘Cats, and go time for the season.
Riley Lees, one of the Wildcats’ top receivers, did not shy away from the mental health impacts these last few months have had on athletes with the Big Ten going back and forth with their decision making. However, with the recent news, it has definitely had a positive effect on lifting the player’s mental health and spirits.
“We’re just grateful to be able to play,” Lees said.” We feel like everything we have set up with the Big Ten and all the testing protocols should be successful and that everybody should be safe and healthy.”
However, it is no secret that many other fall athletes weren’t given the same opportunity as the football players to have a normal season this fall. Newsome went as far as explaining how he plans to use that privilege toward his energy on the field.
“Have to use it as a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We’ve got to play for the other sports that can’t play. I feel bad for them that they aren’t able to play, but we’re going to use that for our energy to fuel us.”
As glorious as football in the fall may seem, many still wonder whether football can complete a full season without being shut down or if there will be any post postponements in the middle of it. But those unanswered questions didn’t faze the players in the slightest — for them, winning is the only thing on their mind.
“Whatever games they give us, that’s the games we’ll play,” Newsome said. “We’re not really worried about what’s gonna get canceled or not. We’re just gonna take it week by week, day by day. If they’re allowing us to play, we’re going to play.”
“I don’t think any of that stuff affects me or any of the rest of us,” Lees agreed. “We’re just worried about what we can control. We’re going with the mindset that we’re prepping to play Maryland in 31 days. That’s our mindset every day.”
Whether the Wildcats end up playing a complete season or only one game this fall, one thing is for certain: the players are excited to be back, Northwestern’s fans are ready to watch some football, and that is all we will celebrate for now.