Panther football adjusting to changes

The UNI football team has been adjusting to many of the changes in recent months, including preparing for a spring season and COVID-19 protocols.

DAVID WARRINGTON

In a normal year, Northern Iowa football would be getting ready to finish up the final few weeks of the regular season and peeking ahead towards the beginning of the postseason in just under a month. However, this year has seen a drastic change from what many people consider normal, so fans are going to have to wait until the end of February to watch the Panthers take the field.

Looking ahead to what still seems so far off, the Panthers look poised to have a successful year on the football field, and the sense of normalcy provided by watching the Panthers run through the smoke and onto the field at the UNI-Dome is something desperately needed on a campus where everyone has been adjusting to a new normal.

Just like campus as a whole, things for Panther football players have been very different this year, with team meetings over Zoom, mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing being implicated in many aspects of everyday football activities. Freshman offensive lineman Wes Hine talked about the difficulties of adjusting to the new normal.

“It almost feels normal now, but once we first started having to do meetings on Zoom and having to work out with face masks it made it really difficult, especially to work out. Having to socially distance from each other is hard. Even though we’re still a team and spend a lot of time together, we still have to keep the guidelines in mind.” Hine said.

Shortly before students arrived on campus for the fall semester, the Missouri Valley Football Conference announced that the 2020 football season would be moved to the spring of 2021. Hine discussed the difficulties of this last-second change. “It was really difficult having our season taken away. It was really annoying to a lot of the older guys,” said Hine.

However, Hine also mentioned the unique opportunity that the team will get because of the unprecedented circumstances. “As a team, we all have the mindset to win two national championships. We’ll have the spring season, and then the fall season. If we were to do that, we would be the first team ever to win two championships in the span of ten months.”

When asked about his favorite aspect of the UNI football program so far, Hine was happy to talk about the camaraderie that had been built during the preseason. “My favorite aspect is the brotherhood we’ve got, especially in the offensive line group. We joke around with each other and we make fun of each other, but at the end of the day we know it’s all love. Especially with the older guys, they sometimes make fun of us freshman, but at the end of the day they’re helping us with steps, plays and pretty much just how to survive camp.”

The UNI football team has set high goals for themselves, and they appear to have the talent to accomplish those goals. From Will McElvain returning at quarterback, to Elerson G. Smith returning on the defensive line, and all of the players in between, there is a lot of talent returning from a team that made it to the quarterfinals of the playoffs last year. For a campus in desperate need of some semblance of normalcy, a successful Panther football team running onto the field at the UNI-Dome could do the trick. The Panthers begin their season on Feb. 20 against Illinois State.