UNH football practice
Jeremy Gasowski
Moving the Goalposts
A COVID-flipped Wildcat football season kicked off March 5

hen it comes to spring sports, one’s thoughts typically turn to baseball. The crack of the bat echoing in the crisp air. The clap of the ball against a worn leather mitt. But at UNH in 2021, spring means football.

As with so many things during COVID-19, the virus prevented the Wildcats from taking the field in the fall when all UNH sports were postponed. Almost immediately, there was talk of moving the football season to spring, but it wasn’t official until the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) unveiled its spring schedule Oct. 27.

It was certainly more than welcome news for the Wildcats. UNH began its season at home vs. Albany on March 5.

“I feel like the whole team is excited. We’re looking forward to getting back at it for real,” says defensive end Brian Carter ’21. “We’re locked in and ready.”

The CAA made some significant changes in response to the pandemic to make a spring season possible. The league broke into two divisions —north and south — to limit travel for road games and eliminate the need for flights. The schedule was reduced to six games, leaving UNH with three contests at home and three on the road, only one of which will require travel outside of New England (to Pennsylvania to face Villanova on March 27, a six-plus hour bus ride away).

“I thought the NCAA and the CAA really invested some good thought into how to have a season in the spring,” says head football coach Sean McDonnell ’78. “And more importantly, our league did a great job in figuring out how to schedule the games and take care of travel to create the safest way to play football in the spring.”

In a typical year, UNH plays a full schedule in the fall and uses “spring ball” to train and begin looking ahead to its future slate of opponents. This year, they simply flipped the two.

“During the first few weeks of school where we didn’t have a game or have to travel anywhere, it felt kind of weird. But we got used to the new schedule,” says offensive lineman Patrick Flynn ’22. “I think everyone is just excited to get back to playing football against another team. It gives us something to work for.”

Limits on the number of people allowed in indoor spaces forced the team to lift weights in groups of nine. On the field, all players were required to wear masks anytime they weren’t wearing a helmet, and the helmets themselves were fitted with plastic shields that covered players’ faces completely. Everyone was expected to stand a socially distanced six feet apart during team drills.

Like all UNH students, players were tested for COVID-19 twice a week and weren’t permitted access to the field house without a negative test. So while the activities the players were completing weren’t necessarily different, the need for more disciplined time management was.

That discipline paid off. With nearly 100 players taking part in team activities throughout the fall semester, there was only one recorded positive COVID test.

“The minute the spring season was announced our kids were dialed in and our administration did an unbelievable job getting us ready to practice by setting up a bunch of safety protocols,” says McDonnell. “I am just extremely proud of the guys. They all bought in.”

—Keith Testa