The long-awaited feeling of normalcy crashed back to Sterling Weatherford and Jalen Walker at the same time.
They slid on their helmets at the start of the first fall practice, and instantly, football was back.
“It was like, ‘Dang, here we go. It’s gametime,’” Weatherford, a redshirt junior safety, said. “That feeling just came right through me as soon as I put it over my head.”
For the first time since the Mid-American Conference announced the return of football this fall on Sept. 25, the Miami RedHawks felt like football players again. Weatherford, Walker and the rest of their teammates got lost in the moment.
“It’s good to put the pads back on,” Walker, a redshirt junior receiver, said. “I hadn’t put the pads on in a long time just ’cause spring ball got cut short, so we didn’t really get to put our helmets on, put our shoulder pads on. And it feels good to get back into that kind of swing of things.”
That was head coach Chuck Martin’s hope since the MAC’s decision.
“Once the kids get on the field, they’ll be on the field and forget about (the outside world),” Martin said. “That’ll be what’s so good about this, whether it’s a couple-hour practice or a three-hour game, it’ll take them out of reality for a short period of time, which we all need at times, and just go back to enjoying what they do.”
At home for the first month of the college football season, Weatherford and Martin had a hard time watching other schools. They couldn’t sit back while other teams lived out the season they were supposed to be having.
“It’s just hard to watch,” Martin said. “I haven’t been mad or frustrated or anything. Just sad more than anything … I just got that pit in my stomach and that missing-something feeling. So it’s been hard.”
Now, they won’t have to worry about that anymore.
Miami kicks off its season on Nov. 4 against the Ball State Cardinals. The RedHawks will compete only against MAC opponents this season, but they don’t mind.
“Obviously, we look forward to those Power Five games we have at the beginning of the year, but ultimately, our mindset is stuck on winning a MAC Championship,” Weatherford said. “We wanna win a conference championship. We wanna try and two-peat this year.”
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That’s the thought that motivated them through the entire sports shutdown. Weatherford and Walker utilized body weight exercises and added a few pounds to their respective frames. They want to ensure they're healthy for this sprint of a season but feel confident the delayed open actually helps them.
“This would normally be our Week 4, Week 5, something like that,” Weatherford said. “At that point in the season — a normal season — you’ve been through a month of fall camp and another month of playing games. Usually, at this point, your body is hurting pretty bad. You’re excited ’cause you’re going into conference play, but I don’t know — my body feels pretty good right now. That’s a positive.”
Just putting on their helmets is a positive right now.
“I’m excited,” Walker said. “It’s an opportunity to go out and defend our title, and we get to play football. Can’t complain about that.”