Moving forward: Chippewas beating mental health challenges
Before the season was reinstated, Central Michigan senior safety Alonzo McCoy and senior wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton discussed getting through the postponement of the Mid-American Conference football season.
"As a team, we all were in different places, but we were always staying together in our group chat, we were sending videos of ourselves working out and doing a bunch of crazy workouts," McCoy said. "That time period built our confidence."
The team's work and mentality paid off when the MAC announced the return of the football. The Chippewas will host Ohio in Kelly/Shorts Stadium on Nov. 4.
"It was the greatest thing I've heard all year," McCoy said. "We couldn't catch a break this year, but now that we're having a season, it's up from here."
Defensive coordinator Robb Akey recalled March 5. The Chippewas had just wrapped up the tenth practice of the spring schedule, which served as the second scrimmage. An additional five practices were slated for after spring break.
However, practices were canceled due to COVID-19. On Aug. 8, the season was wiped off the table when the MAC became the first Football Bowl Subdivision conference to postpone the season to the spring.
"You're on spring break and then they say, 'Y'all, don't come back,'" Akey said. "You're not going to be able to do this, you're not going to be able to do that. Then, the season got killed. That's a lot."
Akey started playing football in the park with neighborhood kids long before started organized football in fourth grade. To have the fall season taken away put a lot of guys -- including coaches -- in a tough place mentally, he said.
"There's a hell of a passion about it. I think our players are the same way," Akey said. "They're younger than (coaches) are. It means everything to them and their lives revolve around it."
For coaches, the constant change of the season was coupled with making sure everyone is doing well -- family, kids, players, assistants and staffers. Everything piled up in a hurry.
Coach Jim McElwain said part of his responsibility as the head coach is looking out for coaches and players in difficult situations.
"I am really, really happy with how our kids have been resilient through all of this -- the ups, the downs, disappointments and uncertainty.," McElwain said. "It leads back to the lessons that there are a lot of unknowns. Yet, the one thing you can control is who you are and how you go about your daily business."
McElwain said he has his team's back, the team has his no matter the situation. On top of that, McElwain has found another source of support -- President Bob Davies.
Each week, Davies sends out an email to the CMU community to keep everyone informed and build spirits. On Mental Health Awareness Day on Oct. 10, Davies offered words of advice to keep spirits high amid the pandemic.
McElwain sent Davies an email back thanking him for the words of encouragement
"It's hard to put into words, and yet, our actions are really the most important," McElwain said. "Our guys have, so far, done a really good job of that with the support of their coaches and the support of each other has been one of the biggest things that have helped us all through it."
On the field, there may have been some questions whether or not the players would be ready to start the season.
Those questions were quickly dashed.
"I saw big smiles on the faces of our guys," Akey said. "Then, I watched the way we got working out here, and I see passion with the way they're playing.
"I know it brought back a smile on my face."