Make no mistake, Southern Utah University students love going to football games in the fall. But what about football games in the spring?
Instead of donning the pads and practice jerseys from March through November, SUU football had to make some major changes to their routines when COVID-19 sent college students across the country home packing last spring.
Changes to normal off-season routines included the Big Sky Conference postponing football in the fall, creating the longest off-season of players’ careers, and an odd six week on-six week off-six week on practice schedule before the season begins.
Head coach Demario Warren explained his teams unique practice schedule in a recent Q&A with the athletic department.
“We wanted to just get back to playing football,” Warren said.
The T-Birds participated in about one full month of practice during the fall semester before ending official practices until spring semester begins on January 11. Warren plans to get another solid six weeks of practice before their first game on February 27.
“I like where we’re at,” Warren said of his team’s fall progress. “It was all fundamental work. At the end of the day, we just wanted to get the fundamentals right and it showed as we wrapped up with a pretty clean scrimmage.”
Sure enough, fall practice did culminate with a 15 minute long scrimmage meant to simulate a fourth quarter of a game. But from now until January, Warren has left it up to each individual player to stay in shape on their own.
“We’ll have some training up until Thanksgiving, and then we’re going to let them go,” Warren said. “It’ll be a long break before they’re back in January, but I trust this team.”
The Big Sky Conference released the official spring football schedule for SUU on November 4. The schedule consists of six games, with the T-Birds lacing up for the first time on February 27. It will be the first official game SUU football plays in over 15 months.
That season start date gives the T-Birds just over six weeks to prepare for their first opponent after returning to campus for the spring semester.
Those six weeks have the potential to be tremendous or disastrous.
Cedar City’s highest snowfall month on average is January with 9.1 inches, followed by February with 9 inches, and March with 8.5 inches.
SUU football usually doesn’t deal with snow. Occasionally, there will be a cold and snowy late season game in the fall, but this new spring schedule takes place during the three most snow-filled months of the year.
SUU also doesn’t have an indoor practice facility, and in fact, most of their practices take place within the Eccles Coliseum.
Practicing in the snow could be advantageous for the T-Birds. They play Idaho State and Weber State in Cedar City on March 13 and March 27 respectively. Six weeks of practice in the January cold and snow might prepare them for a snow ridden game.
Practicing in the snow could also spell trouble for the T-Birds. Studies show exercise injuries are more likely to occur in cold weather.
Despite the weather, the 2021 spring football schedule could bode well for SUU.
The T-Birds will begin their season thawed out in Southern California when they take on California Polytechnic State University. They will then travel to Greeley, Colorado to take on the University of Northern Colorado before their first home game on March 13 against Idaho State University.
Their first three opponents of the 2021 season all finished tied with SUU for last place in the Big Sky Conference in the 2019 season.
Weber State University is the only opponent SUU is slated to face that had a winning record in 2019. A true rivalry game year in and year out, SUU may have a chance to build some momentum against weaker opponents before they take on the powerhouse Wildcats on March 27 in Cedar City.
The T-Birds will play Northern Arizona in Flagstaff on April 3rd, and finish their season April 10th against Idaho at Eccles Coliseum.
While the weather has the potential to be a huge factor during spring football, Warren says his team is hungry.
“We know that there’s a spring schedule and we’ll be ready for it, but we’d also be ready if they told us we could play next week.”
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photos by: Mitchell Quartz