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CEDAR RAPIDS - Coe football coach Tyler Staker hasn't counted the days since the last game.
He just knows it has been far too long, but his estimate was darn close to the Kohawks' 497-day absence from competition when they take the field Saturday.
'It's been a long time,” Staker said. 'Almost 500 days since we've played. They've been working out and practicing. Now, they get an opportunity to compete.”
The American Rivers Conference will hold an abbreviated spring schedule after canceling the regular fall season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Programs will begin the slate with two games and a scrimmage this weekend.
Coe will host Dubuque at Clark Field, starting at 1 p.m. It is the Kohawks' first football game since Nov. 16, 2019.
'I'm excited,” Staker said. 'It is going to be fun. I'm happy that Coe and the American Rivers Conference have agreed to do this. I know there are a lot of schools not playing this spring. A lot of conferences that made decisions as a whole that they aren't going to play. I'm grateful we get the opportunity to play. I feel like the players deserve it with all the hard work put in.”
A-R-C programs set up between three to five games. Coe has four games, including three at home against the Spartans, Nebraska Wesleyan (April 17) and Loras (April 24). The Kohawks play at Simpson on April 10. Loras has the most with five, lining up a game with Northwestern (Minn.), which also plays Luther.
'It was mostly calendar driven,” A-R-C Commissioner Chuck Yrigoyen said. 'Just to ease the burden on the schools with the crossover that was going to happen. Try to take advantage of whatever weather we could have.
'We're not playing for a conference championship in football, so just try to get the games done before they get into the heavy academic load coming with final exams and end-of-the-year projects.”
Other A-R-C sports also moved to the spring. Volleyball is coming to an end. Soccer will start up at the same time as football.
'Yeah, it's been a challenge,” Yrigoyen said. 'Our presidents have been very steadfast the entire year that they want to provide opportunities where we thought we could provide them.
'At least they're able to go out with some sort of competitive opportunity. We're just looking forward to see what it brings.”
These will be games for the sake of games. No playoffs as a reward or conference title at stake. This is simply a chance to take the field. Something they didn't get in the fall.
'We went through fall ball and got in some good practices,” Simpson lineman and former Mount Vernon prep Ian Bootsmiller said. 'We've been going about four weeks now. I'm really looking forward to it.”
Bootsmiller and his brother, Jack, are both seniors on the Storm roster. Ian plans to go to graduate school or into the work force, while Jack has shuffled his scheduled around to return next year, using the waiver offered to reclaim a year of eligibility.
Ian's situation is shared by many Division III athletes, moving on with life as scheduled. He appreciates the chance to get some kind of senior season.
'It was everything,” Ian said. 'My brother and I were devastated about losing the season. Being able to play three games is awesome. I wasn't even expecting to play three games.”
Spring football isn't foreign to D-III. It is just packaged differently this year. Usually, programs will get 16 practices that would start this week and end in April. Those workouts would be without helmets and shoulder pads, focusing on fundamentals and technique.
'The big thing is the competition we will get,” said Staker, noting spectators will be allowed for games at Clark Field. 'And, the fact we get to pad up.”
Staker noted it also will be a strong learning experience for younger players. They benefited from 30 practices in the fall and the spring could be enough to prepare them for varsity action. It may not have been the case seven months ago.
'Some of those younger guys that might not be ready for varsity play in the fall,” Staker said. 'They got those practices in so I think it opens up the door for them to get out there and compete where in a typical year, just wouldn't be ready.”
The procedures are similar to what prep and college football instated in the fall. Players will be masked. Bootsmiller said Simpson also will have a plastic shield attached to helmets. Sideline restrictions will be eased, allowing teams to stand between the 10-yard lines for better social distancing.
'We have tested our guys once a week and now we're testing twice a week,” Staker said. 'We will get our test results back on Friday. They are doing a lot of the things you saw on the Division I level.”
Unfortunately for Wartburg, spring competition was interrupted before it started. The school announced on its website Thursday that the home opener against Luther this Saturday and next week's game at Dubuque are postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
The Knights' schedule consisted of just three games, including Loras April 17 at Dubuque.
Buena Vista is taking a different approach to this spring, opting to participate in scrimmages with Simpson, Nebraska Wesleyan and Central instead of official competitions. BVU Athletics Director Jack Denholm received support from other league ADs earlier this month.
The Beavers will still have a chance to take the field in game-like situations.
'We are looking forward to the chance to continue our development as a program this spring,” BVU Coach Grant Mollring said in a release on the school website. 'The chance to compete against a few of our A-R-C member schools is something we are excited about.”
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