UNH Insider: Sudden change on grand scale for UNH football

  • University of New Hampshire linebacker Oleh Manzyk returns a fumble during a March 5 game against UAlbany in Durham. UNH Athletics

UNH Insider
Published: 3/26/2021 5:32:55 PM

The waiting is the hardest part.

Actually, there are a bunch of difficult parts. There’s not being able to hang out in the locker room before and after practice or games. Not getting to be with your buddies in the cafeteria. Having to communicate through Zoom meetings. There’s not knowing from one week to the next whether you’re going to be allowed to practice or, worst yet, play a game.

“The unknown, just the unknown,” said University of New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell on Wednesday during his weekly Zoom press conference.

By dinner time on Saturday, UNH should have played three games in an already oddly historic season, the first-ever begun in the month of March. Instead, the Wildcats will have played one game, an opener on a frigid night that they lost to UAlbany.

They hope to be able to play their next game at Rhode Island on April 3 and follow that with a home game against Stony Brook on April 10.

UNH had a scheduled off week on March 13 and then had a pair of games postponed, at home against Delaware last Saturday and the other at Villanova this Saturday. Both games were called off because of COVID-19 protocols in the UNH program.

“Obviously, it stinks,” said Evan Horn, a senior safety and team captain along with senior defensive end Brian Carter. “You want to play. We got a taste of playing a game for the first time in a long time and we let that one slip away. We’re dying to get back out there. Missing games stinks. We’ve just got to continue with what we’re doing to get guys back and finish out the season.”

There are positives to build on from the opener.

As far as football goes, the Wildcats have not been allowed to do a whole lot for a while now. They’ve had positive tests for COVID-19 and with contact tracing and all else that comes with it, the program has been shut down.

The goal is to get back to practice and take on Rhode Island.

In the meantime, Carter has been able to get some work done on his final project for his masters in secondary education that he plans to combine with his undergraduate degree in health and physical education and one day perhaps be a high school athletics director.

Fact of the matter is, the starts and stops of this season have become par for the course during the pandemic.

“This is kind of the new normal,” Carter said. “Now you figure out what comes next. We got hit with the initial brunt of it last year when they canceled spring ball. You  do online workouts and talk all summer about being prepared in case there’s a season in the fall. You work like you’re going to have a season and when you find out you don’t, that’s tough. But at the end of the day you have to keep your head up and prepare for spring and we made it to spring and now we get hit with this. This hit us like everything else hit us. But we’ve still got to be ready.”

Carter also said that for the older guys in the program, their years of listening to coach McDonnell constantly talk about coping with sudden change come in handy now.

This is sudden change on a grand scale, a step up from an interception or a fumble forcing the defense back onto the field in what might be a precarious position.

This is testing going the wrong way and practices and games being called off. 

“My whole time here there’s been talk of sudden change,” Carter said. “Personally, I feel it’s easier for me to deal with quick change now. We’ve practiced this. Not that this has been the scenario. But we’ve had to switch the mindset to get it done before. I definitely see the reasoning behind the way he does it and why he has us practice the way he does. Just be ready to go, man.”

The Wildcats had late chances to win their opener, and sitting out at 1-0 would have been easier than sitting out at 0-1. But they did come away with a number of positives. The defense consistently pressured the Albany quarterback, stopped the run and tackled well. Zedane Williams blocked a punt and J.J. Jerome covered the ball in the end zone for a special teams’ touchdown. Quarterback Max Brosmer connected with Sean Coyne for a couple of scoring passes. Several young players, among them safety Noah Stansbury and defensive end Josiah Silver, stepped up and played well.

There’s plenty to build on.

“We’re just looking forward to playing some games,” said Horn, who has a degree in business and will have a masters in sports studies when he finishes up in the fall.

The spring schedule

UNH closes out the regular season with its Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket contest at Maine on April 17 at 2 p.m.  Sixteen teams will participate in the FCS tournament at the end of the season.

The fall schedule

The Wildcats open their 11-game 2021 fall season with a CAA game at Stony Brook on Sept. 4.  They play their first home game against Towson on Sept. 11.

Next up

UNH plays at Rhode Island, which moved into the Stats Perform FCS Top 25 this week at No. 18.  The Rams have won their first two games, both in overtime and on the road against Top 25 teams.  They opened the season with a 40-37 OT win at No. 6 Villanova on March 13. They followed that with a 17-10 win at No. 18 UAlbany last Saturday.  

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