Wednesday, September 30, 2020

How Michigan State football is coping mentally in the midst of uncertainty

September 1, 2020
Scenes from the 2020 football training camp.
Scenes from the 2020 football training camp. —
Photo by Rendering courtesy of MSU Athletic Communications | The State News

The past six months have left little to the imagination, with everything from the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic to social justice movements as a result of police brutality. Not to mention the tragic deaths to well known figures such as Kobe Bryant and Chadwick Boseman.

Another subplot of 2020 has been the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming college football season due to COVID-19. Following months of little answers from conference authority figures, the pandemic ultimately saw the Big Ten and Pac-12 postpone the start of their seasons, with a restart date still to be determined.

We know that when it comes to the physical aspect of football, Michigan State is certainly behind the eight ball. Since it was announced that Mel Tucker would take over the program after Mark Dantonio abruptly retired back in early February, the Spartans have had trouble staying on the field and adjusting to the new regime for any extended amount of time. The coronavirus prevented MSU from starting spring workouts, forced the team to quarantine during voluntary summer workouts and ultimately postponed the start of their season.

It’s impossible to predict what will happen in regards to the upcoming season. If there’s anything we’ve learned so far, it’s that it is an extremely fluid situation. So, with everything that has gone on, where are the players at mentally?

Senior linebacker Antjuan Simmons was disappointed at first to hear that his team wouldn’t take the field in September but is trying to stay optimistic. Simmons was coming into the year expecting to be a leader on new defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton’s defense.

“Yes, definitely, I was excited,” Simmons said regarding the upcoming season. “I felt like I had one of my best off-seasons, so it was a little devastating, but at the same time, I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I can handle just about anything that gets thrown at me, whether it’s football related or just in life in general. Just take everything with a grain of salt and look at how you can get better or find a way to improve or make the most out of your situation.”

On Aug. 11, Tucker halted practice and brought his team together to deliver the news that most were expecting. There would be no Big Ten football this fall, further delaying the new era of Spartan football. From that point on, Simmons has been taking it one day at a time.

“You just keep doing what you’ve been doing, what I’ve been doing, and that’s just taking it one day at a time, being here on campus, going to the workouts, working out with everybody and stuff, being with the coaches, going to the meetings,” Simmons said. "Just taking it one day at a time. I mean, every team within the conference is going to be doing that or something along those lines until we figure out officially what we’re going to do in the spring, or in the fall. But like I said, I’m excited. I’m excited for whatever the future may hold, I’m just going to take it one day at a time and whatever happens, happens.”

For senior cornerback Dominique Long, staying positive and looking at the bigger picture has helped him process the uncertainty. Long understands why the season was postponed, even though the news was hard to digest.

“We have high goals; we have high expectations,” Long said. “So, either way, we’re going to work our hardest every day, and try to showcase our talents and accomplish our goals. So, when we got the news, obviously people are going to be bummed out a little bit, like we came up here, we took the risk and we ended up not having the season. But at the end of the day, I think that nobody can be really too mad at the decision made because safety should be a top priority. So, we understand why they did what they did, but when the time comes, I think we’ll all be ready to play. That’s the mindset that we all have.”

Senior offensive lineman Matt Allen is excited to use the time to work with Tucker and offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic to become more familiar with the new scheme. Allen’s brother, former Spartan and current Los Angeles Ram Brian Allen, dealt with COVID earlier this summer.

“I was very excited for the fall, but I’m also excited that we’ll get more time to really develop as a unit and as an offense,” Allen said. “It’s just another opportunity to get better, so I’m excited for it.”

For the Spartans, the day Tucker delivered the news of the season’s postponement will always sting until the team gets more clarity on what’s next. The team took a step toward that desired clarity Aug. 21, when the NCAA approved a blanket waiver that would grant fall sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. For now, though, Simmons and the rest of the Michigan State football team will just have to carry on into the unknown.

“I gave myself 24 hours just to feel down about (the season’s postponement), but after that, it’s time to move forward,” Simmons said. “You’ve got to move forward. You can’t continue looking back in the rear view (mirror), talking about how we could do this or we could do that. That’s just not the nature of the situation right now. You know you’ve just got to take it with a grain of salt and figure out what you can do to make the most out of your situation.”

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