Thursday night at Thone Stadium at Buerkle Field will be a study in the duality of the times in which we live.
On one hand, it will be a celebration of the return of Arkansas Tech University football after 656 long days. Everyone there --- the players, the coaches, the athletic training personnel, the officials, the chain crew, the fans, the band, the spirit squads, the press box workers, etc. --- will be excited that football is back in the Great American Conference.
But as the 6 p.m. kickoff draws near, a significant weight will exist in the hearts and on the minds of the Wonder Boys and their coaches…a stark reminder that the pandemic that caused Arkansas Tech’s longest break from football since World War II is not over.
That weight will stem from the fact the Wonder Boys will be without one of their own, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jesse Boshears of Perryville.
According to a Facebook group started by his family to provide updates, Boshears is hospitalized with COVID-19.
“It’s been a very long two months for him and his family,” said Kyle Shipp, ATU head football coach. “His mom and dad…his fiancée…I talk to them a minimum of three or four times per week to get an update. We pray for him as much as we can, and most of the teams in the conference are doing the same thing. It’s a rough deal that he’s going through, but we know he’ll be with us in spirit on the sideline. We miss him, we love him and we can’t wait to see him again in person.”
Back on campus, the Wonder Boys have carried on in preparation for the season.
Shipp reports that approximately 85 percent of the team is vaccinated against COVID-19. The fact that any coach or player could be placed in quarantine or isolation at any moment is influencing the way the team prepares.
“Even after preseason camp wrapped up, we’ve been continuing to give our young guys anywhere from 12-to-16 snaps per day of our offensive scheme against our defensive scheme,” said Shipp. “We have to continue to develop those guys in case something happens. If one of those young guys gets stuck in there, we’ll know how to get the football snapped, how to block the guy in front of us and how to run a base defense. We continue to do that for development, but also in case we find ourselves down 10 or 15 guys. If that happened, we’d have some others who could step up and allow us to play a football game.”
Of course, there’s more to a football game than Xs and Os. Even the smallest details must be addressed when every player and every coach is this far out of his routine.
“It’s weird because when you take a year off it’s all brand new again,” said Shipp. “We’re doing game prep things to remind guys how a sideline is supposed to work and how special teams and things like that work during a game. Getting those guys back on the same page takes time, but I think we’ll be fine with that aspect.”
The past 18 months have provided each of us with an overabundance of lessons in handling adversity. For many, like Jesse and his family, the daily struggle to overcome the virus continues.
The will and determination necessary to fight on…in football, as in life, it is often the most important quality we can possess.
“When something bad happens, how do we respond to it?” said Shipp. “That was our problem in 2019. We got better at that as that year went along, and it’s something we’ve harped on during the COVID year and through preseason camp. When something bad happens, do we fall apart or do we pick each other up? That’s what will make the difference in who we really are as a football team.”
Talk to you on the radio.
Tech Tidbits is a column written by Sam Strasner, ATU director of university relations and radio play-by-play voice for ATU football and basketball.