SCHENECTADY — When the Union College football team kicks off its season Sept. 4 against Morrisville State, it’ll have been 644 days between games for the Dutchmen.
After all that waiting, what’s to be expected?
“It’s going to be,” Union senior linebacker Colin Lama said Tuesday during the team’s media day at Frank Bailey Field, “one of the most physical games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Union has been sidelined since Nov. 30, 2019, when the team suffered its first and only loss of that season against Salisbury in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
The 2020 season was canceled due to restrictions brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic, and while the Dutchmen were able to conduct a few practices last fall and were back in pads for some workouts in the spring before returning to campus earlier this month for preseason camp, it’s been far too long since the team has been able to let out its pent-up frustration on an opponent.
“They’re hungry,” Union head coach Jeff Behrman said. “They’re ready to go.”
“You can feel the intensity in practice,” added senior wide receiver Andre Ross Jr. “Everybody’s waiting to hit somebody on the other team.”
For some Dutchmen, that first chance will actually come Saturday, when the team hosts a preseason scrimmage against Hartwick.
However, with a number of players likely to be held out of that scrimmage, it won’t be until the opener against Morrisville State when everybody gets the green light.
Especially considering that Behrman’s practices tend to be lighter on full-contact tackling.
“We’ve only had eight live, tackle reps since we’ve been back on Aug. 11,” Behrman said. “That’s just part of my own, personal philosophy of how to prepare a team. I’m very confident in our defensive coaches that they’ve prepared them with the different tackling drills that they do.”
The excitement since the Dutchmen reported for preseason has been “pretty palpable,” according to Behrman, a product of the anticipation after the team’s extended wait to get back on the gridiron.
After years of playing football on every fall Saturday, the sensation of not having anything to do a year ago was, as senior offensive lineman Tim Driscoll concisely put it, “weird.”
“Waking up on Saturday, you could smell the fall in the air, and we weren’t playing,” Driscoll said. “It was definitely strange. I’m just excited to get out and play. Everyone can’t wait for Sept. 4.”
It left the Dutchmen with a lot of unexpected free time.
Senior running back Ike Irabor, the 2019 Liberty League Offensive Player of the Year, said he mainly, “Stayed in my room, did work, got my homework done, got my grades up.”
Driscoll said he and others used that extended break to redouble their efforts in the weight room, while senior defensive end Daniel Gioiso said it was hard not to think about the frustration of not playing.
“A lot of thinking about what could’ve been, a lot of downtime lost, just thinking about our season that got taken away from us,” Gioiso said. “It wasn’t easy. We found time to do other things and look forward to this year.”
By the time Sept. 4 rolls around, Gioiso expects the excitement to be at a fever pitch.
“There’s going to be a lot of excitement,” he said. “A little bit of butterflies before the game, being a little bit nervous about getting back out there, but it’s a long-awaited day for us, for the whole team.”