Carrie Jefferson | Staff Writer
Nov. 12, 2020
Walking along Duquesne’s Academic Walk, one would sullenly expect to see an empty Rooney Field due to the cancellation of fall football this year.
The Dukes are exhibiting profound work ethic as they continue to train toward a spring football season. Although everything has been up in the air amidst the pandemic, the NCAA and NEC have stated there will be a season in the spring.
“Recently, [the NCAA] saying that they’re pretty sure we’re gonna play in the spring [has] definitely lifted the moods of everybody,” said senior tight end Bill O’Malley. “Everyone’s a little bit more energized and excited about it and you can see it in workouts and practices [now that there is] something in front of us to work toward.”
Whether it’s running sprints on the field, lifting in the gym or simply playing catch with teammates, the Duquesne football players are setting their sights on an upcoming season. Seeing as the team was picked to finish second in the Northeast Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Dukes are determinedly working to live up to that prediction.
Although there have been no formal practices since last spring, the players have been permitted by the NCAA to wear helmets as well as train in pods to work on individual skill sets.
“It’s been an extreme challenge [to stay motivated],” Head Coach Jerry Schmitt said. “We are pretty close to not having played or practiced football for a full year, [but the players] just keep looking to the future and [taking] it day by day.”
Allowing the team to train in pods not only lets the players continue to improve their skills, but it enables them to play the game they’re so passionate about alongside their teammates. During the exceptionally long offseason, the coaches have stressed taking each day as it comes and working on themselves individually.
“We try to get [the players] concentrated on utilizing this time to work on some individual skill development whether it be on the field, improving in the classroom or some mental work,” Schmitt said.
In order to follow COVID-19 protocols, the use of Zoom has been essential for the team to stay connected. Nevertheless, it has been a struggle to create and maintain relationships within the team due to the virtuality aspect.
“It’s tough developing relationships in what we call our ‘football family’ over Zoom calls,” Schmitt said. “The incoming freshmen have not had the opportunity to come in here and experience the normal way that we welcome our freshmen into our ‘football family.’”
Just like any team sport, it will be crucial for the Dukes to mesh together in order to form a strong bond that will lead them down a winning path.
“Whenever we get the chance to come together, [my goal] is that we gel as a team because we haven’t had that opportunity yet,” O’Malley said.
Communication will be essential, as well, for the success of the team in the spring, especially with the addition of many new players.
“Duquesne’s offense is going to be a lot of new faces [with] a lot of transfers, [a] new quarterback [and] some young receivers,” O’Malley said. “I think it’s going to be really interesting, [but] it’s up to us to find that potential and achieve it.”
Looking toward the future, the Dukes will participate in a shortened six-game conference-only schedule with the possibility of an appearance in the FCS playoffs in Spring 2021; the playoffs will consist of only 16 teams instead of its usual mark of 24. With that in mind, the team will need to come out strong right away.
“We can’t really afford a slow start, especially with how our season will be structured if we want to make the playoffs and make a run at it,” O’Malley said. “We gotta start fast and we can’t have a slip-up early.”
Under normal circumstances, a team’s goal may just be focused on making it to the playoffs, and while that may be true for the Dukes, they have an even simpler goal this year: Reaching that first kickoff.
“My goal is to get to the field [and] get to the first game,” Schmitt remarked. “If and when we kick off that football in that first game, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world.”
Duquesne football fans can attest to Schmitt’s goal as they anxiously await the day they’re permitted to cheer on the Dukes from the Rooney Field bleachers. In a whirlwind of a year, many things have been unexpectedly ripped away due to the pandemic, which has forced everyone to face difficult lessons.
“This season is a perfect example of, ‘don’t take anything for granted,’” O’Malley said. “There’s a lot of things outside of your control and, like we’ve seen, it can be taken away very quickly.”