It’s still “game on” for the Colonels amidst setbacks
It’s no secret that the effects of COVID-19 have drastically changed the way spring and summer football look for teams across the country.
For Nicholls State University Head Coach Tim Rebowe and the Colonels, though, such setbacks haven’t stopped the back-to-back Southland Conference Champions from being “hungry” to get their 2020 season underway.
“I do know this: they are starving. They are hungry. They are eager to return back to work,” Rebowe said.
The Colonels had just kicked off their spring walkthroughs and meetings in the days before the first wave of COVID-19 closures began in Lafourche Parish. Rebowe said they managed two days of practice with helmets on but were cut short before their first Saturday in full pads.
The team’s remaining spring practices, which were set to run from March 11 through April 3, were subsequently cancelled, along with the spring game set for April 4.
However, Rebowe said football had to be put “on the back burner” for a while as the situation progressed so quickly. At the time, no one knew when or if they’d be returning to Nicholls.
“We were trying to make sure all of our players were safe, and then getting them out to their homes,” Rebowe said. “It was all about the safety of our players and making sure they all had a place to go, they all were eating, and we had to make sure they were continuing on the academics because that didn’t slow down.”
For coaches like Rebowe, the effects of the pandemic on football operations and schedules is unprecedented territory.
“There is no playbook that tells us how to do this. I have been coaching for 34 years, from junior high, to high school, to college, and we’ve never had anything like this, to where there was no spring ball and no summer, so nobody knows how to deal with that,” Rebowe said.
Though they have not met every day, Rebowe said his staff and players have turned to resources like Zoom and Google Meet to stay in touch and keep everyone updated.
However, Rebowe said there will come a point when life begins to get back to normal, so it’s up to his players to be prepared for when that day arrives. In the past weeks, for example, some players have sent him and his coaching staff their workout plans and videos from home.
“That’s what we try to deal with with our players: you be prepared [for] when things get back to what you know. And they’ll be ready,” Rebowe said.
With the uncertainty ahead, social media has become a source of constant speculation surrounding if and how the 2020 football season will operate by the time fall arrives. Some predict that the season will start late, while others believe it will take place without fans.
For the Colonels, though, Rebowe has continued to emphasize a sentiment his team often discusses: block out the noise.
“I think you can drive yourself crazy if you look at all the different scenarios, and all the time when we meet, we talk about…the things that we know,” Rebowe said. “If you listen to all the people out there and all the people in the NCAA world, everybody has the answer, and this is going to sound crazy, but nobody has the answer.”
What the team does know right now is that arrangements can and likely will change. Rebowe said they have plans in place for a potential June return, July return and August return, depending on the circumstances. Above all, they are staying focused on what they do know and are prepared to make adjustments to their plans if necessary.
As progress is made to begin to open back up, Rebowe said the team will continue its operations in phases. He said the first priority is seeing the university reopen.
Additionally, the NCAA has placed its own limits on what teams can do during this time. Today, the NCAA is set to vote on when players can begin to return to workouts. Rebowe said the indication as of now is that players will be allowed to return to campus on June 1 on a voluntary basis, with state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing in place.
Rebowe said that it’s possible July will allow for face-to-face meetings with players. If all goes well, then football could be back on track by August.
For now, his priority is getting players back to campus.
“I think that’s the first step is trying to get some of our guys back on campus and getting them into workouts,” Rebowe said.
The Colonels enter the 2020 season coming off of two of the program’s most successful runs of all time.
In 2018, they finished 9-4 overall, picking up the program’s first SLC title since 2005 and first back-to-back playoff appearances in school history. Their 2019 campaign concluded with a 9-5 overall record, a second consecutive SLC title and their third straight trip to the playoffs.
While Rebowe doesn’t want to bury the Colonels’ success the past two seasons, he said the team makes it a point to treat each year as a new year and every team as a new team.
“We preach constantly [that] something that you’ve done in the past doesn’t mean automatically it’s going to happen in the future,” Rebowe said. “We want to take the positive things we’ve done and continue to do them, so I think for us it’s creating that environment that we can win here, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”
Rebowe said the biggest aspect that players will miss from the lack of spring practice is the team bonding that would shape this year’s Colonels.
With the program losing some of the forces behind its winningest senior class in history, this is especially significant. Following the 2019 season, the Colonels said goodbye to key seniors like record-breaking quarterback Chase Fourcade, who was named SLC Player of the Year in 2018 and Offensive Player of the year in 2019; defensive lineman Sully Laiche, who was named SLC Player of the year last season; All-Southland First Team linebacker Allen Pittman; and All-Southland Second Team linebacker Laryon James.
However, Rebowe said he feels good about the team’s next group of leaders and their ability to pick up where the previous group left off.
“When you have that senior class, we’re also speaking to that junior class right below them. Hey, you’re going to be these guys next in line,” Rebowe said. “I do think we have some good leaders in that next group ready to step up, but they’ve got to be able to do it on the field.”
Each year, the Colonels adopt a motto to carry through their upcoming season — phrases like “All In,” “Earn It” and “One Way.”
Fittingly enough, the team’s motto for 2020 is “GAme_oN,” signifying that every day, and not just Saturdays, is “game on.”
“You’ve got to look at how it’s written because it’s a big ‘GA’ and a little ‘me.’ That has a meaning to us — that the game is bigger than all of us,” Rebowe said. “It also has a little underscore underneath there, and that has several meanings to us that I explained to the team, and of course the ‘oN’ has the N with the sword in it.”
Rebowe said he wants the Nicholls community to know that the football program is setting out to continue to put out a product in which fans can take pride.
If the 2020 season starts as planned, the Colonels will kick off their campaign in front of a home crowd at John L. Guidry Stadium — something that hasn’t happened since 2017 and has only happened twice since 2011. For a program familiar with starting its season on the road, Rebowe said kicking off the season at home, especially following circumstances that have kept people apart and left them without sports, is especially significant.
“Playing at home early is big…especially if we can start this season on time,” Rebowe said. “Sports [are] kind of a rallying cry for a lot of people, not just football. If we can do that and open up on time and play this home game and get off to a good start, I think it could be a whole lot of feel-good for a whole lot of people.”
For now, though, Rebowe hopes that this unprecedented situation has helped his players to learn to appreciate what they have and recognize that anything can be taken away from them in an instant. In addition, he hopes it has allowed all those involved with the program to slow down and spend time with their families for a while.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, he has a message for all those working to fight it.
“Nicholls Athletics appreciates all the responders and all the frontline people…I know they’ve been away from their families, too, and we definitely appreciate that,” Rebowe said.