Saturday, June 6, 2020

'Even though we're not at the building, work's still getting done': How Spartan football has stayed on pace

Spartan football has stayed connected and held themselves accountable in absence of spring football

April 15, 2020
<p>Sophomore linebacker Antjuan Simmons (34) dives to push Central Michigan wide receiver Devon Spalding (25) during the game on Sept. 29, 2018 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Chippewas, 31-20.</p>

Sophomore linebacker Antjuan Simmons (34) dives to push Central Michigan wide receiver Devon Spalding (25) during the game on Sept. 29, 2018 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Chippewas, 31-20.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

In a perfect world, spring football would already be well underway, the Spartans would be preparing for the spring game and the players and new coaching staff would’ve been bonding and developing in person. Instead, football meetings are being held over Zoom and players will have to wait for that first contact, but the adjustments haven't stopped them from trying to operate as normal as possible from home.

Players have been doing everything they can to stay on track with what they’d be doing in East Lansing, finding ways to get their football fix and lifts at home.

“My days are based around just working out, doing school work and football,” senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons said.

“When I came back home I instantly started looking for stuff I could buy, stuff in stores," Simmons said. "I went out and I bought a bunch of weights, I bought a bench press rack and a few other things that me and my little brother could use while we’re home, and everyday we just go down there and get a little workout in, we’re able to do full body stuff, we got resistance bands, dumbbells, weighted vests, pretty much all the essential stuff.”

Simmons, who is set to be a leader on the team this year, has had to shift his role during this time. He has tried to lead from home, hold players accountable and set the tone for a championship season when football starts back up.

“Right now it’s a little more personal responsibility on you, as far as taking care of everything you're supposed to be doing,” Simmons said.

“For me it's just been important to me to set the tone, making sure our guys know, if our plans are to win a championship, to make sure we're still all working – Treat these next few months as if we're still trying to make it our best offseason, even though we're not in the facilities working.”

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Losing spring football came as a shock, as imminent as it may have seemed. It was hard for the players to imagine a world with no football, but that hasn’t stopped them from getting work done in limbo.

“I wasn’t really anticipating it at all … Luckily, it was just the spring football season that was canceled,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Matt Allen said. “I was just fortunate that it was in the offseason and not during the season — at the same time I know that we were still really excited to get to work with the new coaching staff and even though we’re not at the building, work's still getting done.”

It’s a tough reality for a team who was excited to get going with a new staff and chase championships, but it's the right thing to do. Now, more than ever, results are left in the players' hands.

“It’s tough, it’s real tough, but it is what it is, it’s the best thing to do right now for everybody, and the public and society,” Simmons said. “It’d be completely unsafe for football teams to be out there working out and doing all that stuff, it’d be unsafe for us to do that, so this is the right thing for us to do and it's no problem with that, it's just gonna show who’s committed and who’s not, that’s all it is.”

With everyone away from East Lansing, holding themselves accountable every day, they’ve still found ways to keep in touch and bond. Beyond using Zoom, the players have kept in contact in a team group chat.

In the chat, they stay connected and share their workout regimes and situations. While some have better setups than others, they have all found a way to get work in.

“Some guys have better things than others, and then other guys have been really good at adapting to the situation,” Allen said.

“Guys like (offensive tackle) A.J. Arcuri– He's still in East Lansing right now, but he's been working out in his home gym in his parents' garage four days a week and he’s using cinder blocks and a wooden broom stick," Allen said. "I was a little nervous at first to see what guys were gonna be able to do but, everybody’s been posting videos in our group chat just to make sure everybody’s staying accountable and everybody’s been getting their work done, so it's really good to see.”

While the players make strides to keep their bodies in performance shape, they have also taken the time to keep their minds sharp. They have learned and studied the new coaches playbooks over Zoom and binged any football they can.

“Just watching football,” Simmons said. "Trying to see if I can pick up on something, just keep those skills and those thoughts rotating in my mind, I don’t want my brain to fall asleep on football.”

In this period of limbo, the players have tried looking at the bright side. They have been able to spend time with their family back at home. Allen and Simmons have used this time to workout with their siblings.

Allen has been running lineman drills with his brother in their yard, working on footwork and keeping his edge.

“(Allen's brother, former MSU offensive lineman) Jack’s been very helpful," Allen said. "We have a little weight rack set in our basement and I've been working out on that like four days a week and then I’ll go outside and usually three days a week and usually one more workout on the field.”

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After he was sent home and scoured for workout gear, Simmons has been lifting with his brother daily. The experience is one Simmons has cherished, as he hasn’t seen his brother this much since high school.

“We're rarely at home at the same time,” Simmons said.

“The only times I've gotten to see my little brother is if he just so happens to come to a game or if he’s in the area of Lansing and he stops by. All the way up to this point i've probably seen my brother four times, so i’m definitely happy and I’m excited to be around him.”

The chance that football may not be back come fall is still a possibility, but the Spartans haven’t let that stop their progress. They are working each day with what they have and haven’t let their fire be put out by the pandemic.

“I know I've been doing my best to stay on top of things and just continue to strive to get better every day and I know a lot of my teammates are doing the exact same thing." Allen said. "I'm excited and I don’t really think this is gonna have a huge impact on us, we’re ready to go.”

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