MU football is facing off the Augustana Vikings today as they come off a huge win over main rival Illinois Wesleyan. The game will be a test: Will Big Blue’s efforts during the pandemic bring them season-long success?
“The win against Wesleyan is a lot because we haven’t beaten them in almost 10 years,” safety Jourdan Cooper said. “And it was a huge accomplishment for the seniors. The team hopes to build on this one and by beating Auggie which will be the first time that we’d beat both Augustana and Illinois Wesleyan the same season since 1999.”
The road to playing in-person games has been long and full of obstacles.
“Football is really a sport, where unlike a lot of the other sports where practicing isn’t necessarily the funnest thing,” head coach Dan Gritti said. “You can’t really scrimmage, you can’t, you know, especially in 2021, with concussions and all that kind of thing. Taking a bunch of live reps in practice isn’t the smartest thing, so we don’t do that. So they put in a lot of work and the payoff comes when you get to play actual games.”
COVID-19, for instance, has been a constant worry and a barrier for in-person practices—but extreme cold early in the semester also pushed the schedule back two weeks.
Those two weeks were a nuisance, but it also gave the team a chance to prepare.
“Usually you have the whole summer where they’re working out six days a week and you’re in prime shape and camp starts, you know, we got to do some of that in the fall,” Gritti said. “When [players] went home, Chicago still on lockdown, St. Louis didn’t have much going on, Indianapolis or the places where our guys are from, they didn’t have the opportunity to keep that conditioning up. So the cold was a blessing in many ways. It gave us two weeks where we could just run them and condition them to get them closer to the game shape.”
Throughout this past week, their main weather concern wasn’t the cold, but the wind.
“Our field is probably the biggest wind tunnel in the history of the world,” Gritti said. “So you know, the wind yesterday was about thirty miles an hour the whole day. So it’s been an interesting challenge.”
The rest of Big Blue’s games, however, will take place away from the Frank M. Lindsay Field.
“It’s going to be some of the first games that some of our guys have ever played in their lives without their parents in attendance,” Gritti said. “It’s going to be a strange occurrence for them. But, you know, I think we’re motivated by our own standards, by our own expectations, by our own desires, and so on. I hope it doesn’t have a real negative effect. Football’s unique also in the sense that it’s one of those games where you can really silence some opposing crowds and sort of take solace in that silence. So that’s certainly a goal for us on Saturday. I’m sure [Augustana will] have a huge crowd there. And we’re going to want to silence them as quickly as possible.”
The team has been trying to improve its situational awareness on offense for the upcoming game as they introduce more younger players into the starting line.
“Something that this team can build on for the future, is just to keep sticking to it,” defensive tackle Gerald Lenoir said. “We’re a hard-nosed competitive group who wants to get out there and play ball, want to get better each and every day. And that means that we continue to take the weight room seriously, continue taking failing seriously, and just try to be the best.”
The season has become about proving that the hard work the team has put in over the pandemic and last several years has paid off—and giving the new players room to grow.
“We hope that this win and this season in the spring propels us into the fall,” Cooper said.