Wittenberg ‘appreciative of the opportunity’ as practices begin one year after lost football season

Wittenberg players run to a huddle during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff
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Wittenberg players run to a huddle during practice on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Springfield. David Jablonski/Staff

Majority of players on roster have not witnessed a Wittenberg football game, coach Joe Fincham says

In Joe Fincham’s wildest dreams, he never imagined losing an entire Wittenberg football season to a pandemic.

“Nobody would have ever thought we would have gone through what we did last fall,” Fincham said, “but we did and, hopefully, in some ways, we’re better for it. I know we learned a lot. Appreciate what you got, that’s for sure.”

On July 22, 2020, the North Coast Athletic Conference postponed all sports competition until Dec. 31. That decision ended the football season before preseason practices began. Although some Division III conferences elected to play a shortened season in the spring, the NCAC did not. Wittenberg held some practices in the fall and spring but didn’t even get to scrimmage an outside opponent because of COVID-19 issues inside the program.

The hope now is that the 2021 season will go off without a hitch. Practices start Thursday for the Tigers, who open the season Sept. 4 at Edwards-Maurer Field in Springfield against State University of New York College (SUNY) at Cortland.

The NCAA will not test vaccinated athletes unless they are symptomatic this season, while unvaccinated individuals will face three COVID-19 tests per week. If 5 percent of a team tests positive, the entire team will be tested.

“We’re encouraging our players to get vaccinated,” Fincham said. “I think that we’ve got the vast majority in that area. But it’s a family decision. Who am I to tell somebody they got to do it? I’m vaccinated, but I believe in people having the choice. I don’t know how it’s all going to work out. Right now, I know we’re going to be wearing masks inside, and that’s all I know.”

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With the lost season, most of Wittenberg’s players have yet to experience college football outside the practice field since they enrolled in school.

“I bet close to 100 of our guys have never even witnessed a Wittenberg football game,” Fincham said, “I told somebody the other day, ‘This is going to be like having a NFL expansion franchise.’ I just hope I’m not John McKay and the 1976 Bucs. It’s going to be different for sure, but obviously our guys should be excited about having the opportunity and appreciative of the opportunity, so they’ll work hard and play hard and hopefully represent us well.”

The last time, Wittenberg had a season, it finished 7-3 and 7-2 in the NCAC. Among the key returning players from that team are: quarterback Bobby Froehlich, who threw 14 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in his first season as a starter; wide receiver Sam Kayser, who led the team with 32 receptions; linebacker Logan Jewsikow, who ranked second on the team with 61 tackles; and safety Jordan Burkey, who ranked second on the team with three interceptions.

If Fincham has any worries entering preseason practices, they start with the size of the lines.

“We’ll be a little undersized on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I’m worried about how well we’ll tackle on defense after not having played for a year. We can be a little young at linebacker. I am waiting to see how, how efficient we’ll be in the kicking game. All those guys are back from the last time we were on the field, but unfortunately we weren’t as efficient as what we’ve grown accustomed to. Quite frankly, we’ve been really spoiled over the years with great specialists. We were just really young in those positions in 2019. We’re looking forward to seeing how those guys have improved.”