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ONU Football Creates a New Paradigm

Olivet Nazarene University (ONU) football team adapts to promote team building and maintain skills during the pandemic.

Head Football Coach Eric Hehman said that in his 25 years of coaching, he has never experienced anything like what the coronavirus has done to football seasons across the nation. The only massive shutdown he had witnessed was after 9/11, and that only lasted for two days. The environment he is currently coaching his team in is entirely foreign.

Olivet has opted to keep its doors open and utilize as much in-person class time and community building as possible.

With this decision in place, athletic programs like the football team are searching for creative solutions to bring teams together and keep skills sharp.

When the school first closed and quarantine was mandated, Hehmen recalls that the team was coming off of a strong offseason and were really coming together. The initial shock of getting sent home was disappointing, but they wanted to do everything possible to maintain the momentum they had been building up.

They utilized platforms like Microsoft Teams to stay connected and accountable, something they are still practicing during their current season. Hehman said that since they are taking every precaution necessary, the team cannot practice as a whole unit. Instead, they have been using video chats to create a sense of community; something he thinks will carry over into the future of their program.

While the coronavirus did play a factor in recruiting and incoming freshman, Hehmen said it was not as damaging as it could have been.

This is something that junior and transfer student Nathanael Louis-Pierre can attest to.

Louis-Pierre transferred to ONU from California, in large part due to him wanting, “to go to a program that had plans on playing.”

He said that though the uncertainty of it all can take a toll, the family atmosphere of ONU football has created a place where players want to give their best. The team has set standards and expectations for themselves that they are constantly striving for.

Though the prospect of playing contributed to his transfer, Louis-Pierre said he believes he would have ended up here even without the pandemic. He stated that the gold standard ONU football lives by pulled him in and it was the, “one blood” mentality that sold it for him.

According to senior and captain Jalon Simpson, in order to keep that mentality and competitive atmosphere, the team has been having a lot of intrasquad scrimmages. ONU is doing what other schools are not — having smaller and controlled physical practices, not just weight room workouts.

Simpson said that not only will this keep them ready for any potential games, but it will set them apart and benefit the program long-term. He stated, “[the] comradery we have as a team right now will push forward to the future.”

Possibilities for fall games and a spring season are still in the works, but Hehman said that the team is going to keep working towards an eventual season and learn from the leadership lessons this time period has produced. He says that the non-traditional schedule has allowed for a “constant opportunity to grow” which, ultimately, is what ONU football is all about.

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