GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Six games, six opportunities. With less time to compete comes less time to stand out.
Two former West Michigan student-athlete standouts who both had full high school football experiences say the game has changed for players following in their footsteps.
The game hasn’t just changed for the next generation, but for themselves too. Both now competing at the collegiate level, they say things aren’t like they used to be creating a different atmosphere for football players across the spectrum.
“I can only imagine what they’re going through and what they’re thinking,” Anthony Bradford, former Muskegon High School Big Red, now national champion with Louisiana State University of the South Eastern Conference said. “I feel for the young guys for sure. I mean everybody that’s on the Muskegon football team absolutely loves football and for them to be only able to play six games and not really have a reason for the season, going to Ford Field at the end must really be hard.”
So much at the high school level has been altered. Fans of course not allowed in the stadium unless given a ticket by one of the athletes inside to reduce the number of people and the spread of COVID-19. Friday night lights themselves dimmed and diminished, with many kickoffs starting earlier to avoid peak mosquito times amid growing concerns of Eastern Equine Encephalitis.
The story of Bradford and Tate Hallock, former Forest Hills Central High School Ranger now Michigan State University Spartan of the Big Ten, quickly became one of two: two viruses, two conferences and two athletes ready to make a name for themselves.
“Starting out with not having a season and next thing you know we got a season in two weeks, so which is crazy. You think about all the injuries that could happen,” Hallock said. “At the end of the day, we’re all playing football. I just hope we can keep playing football and hope there’s nothing that ends it again.”
MSU of the Big Ten only decided to play football last week. Like many programs across the country, at all levels of play, MSU had a strict return to play COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the health and safety of all their student-athletes.
“We’re all different conferences, we’re not the same conference. So, I mean, I think the Big Ten’s decision was fine,” Hallock said. “Obviously I want to play football, but at the same time I want to watch my health and stuff like that.”
LSU of the SEC was one of the first conferences to iron out plans to play weeks ago. Their guidelines much looser compared to others, it’s resulted in positive COVID cases spreading quickly through locker rooms across the south.
“It got crazy. I mean, corona, I had it for about two weeks but it’s pretty bad. It isn’t nothing to play with,” Bradford said. “I feel like the way Michigan, like up north, handles it is like a little better in a kind of way, but then again it’s like we’re here for a reason, we’re here to play.”
To be sure, each conferences’ decisions will be judged under a microscope. The full effects of the decisions of each may not be known for years, possibly even decades down the road.
Hallock and his team of Spartans have yet to report a positive case, according to Hallock. However, their workout regimen is now hurried to prepare to play.
“All of our players haven’t tested positive, so I do think, definitely, our situation is a lot different. Especially up here. Everybody else is just taking it a lot more seriously up here, obviously down there they had all those football players test positive,” Hallock said. “I trust my coaches. I trust my strength staff, which are all amazing and I trust my trainers to get me right even if I do get hurt. If it comes to that, but other than that, not really. I think we’re all ready to go.”
While each player and each conference navigate how best to move forward, largely individually, as each will play a strictly interconference schedule this season; both young men preach patience and perseverance to the young men next in line behind them.
“Keep pushing forward,” Bradford said. “Don’t worry about all the outside stuff, just focus on your goals and what you really want and what you need to help you and your family. You may only have six games and the playoffs to prove yourself but stay focused and ready to work.”
Both knowing while the game may have changed, one thing hasn’t.
“I want these young guys to say hey I got six games to play. I’m going to play the best six games of my life, even if I have one bad game, just pick it up the next week,” Hallock said. “If it’s the crack of dawn, playing at 9 a.m. or its 9 p.m. you got to be ready to go. I mean there’s all this stuff going around with COVID and EEE, which both are very serious things, so you just got to get around it. Whenever you play you just got to be ready. The best man wins. The best team wins, whoever’s most prepared for that moment.”
Bradford and the LSU Tigers kick off their season Saturday, Sept. 26 at 2:30 p.m. against Mississippi State in Baton Rouge, LA.
Hallock and the MSU Spartans begin their season close to a month later on Saturday, Oct. 24. The time is still to be determined against Rutgers in East Lansing, MI.