After fall cancellation, football puts championship title defense on hold

by Will Ennis | 9/22/20 2:05am

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Source: Courtesy of Isiah Swann

The Ivy League’s decision to cancel all fall intercollegiate athletic competition has paused Dartmouth’s quest to repeat as Ivy League champions until at least the spring. The Big Green is adjusting to a limited, COVID-19-safe practice routine in hopes of an eventual season.

Head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 said that the decision to cancel fall sports, although disappointing, was “data-driven” and appropriate.

“I tell our players: The call was made,” Teevens said. “We can debate it if we want, but it's not going to change. So it's going to be a different year for us.”

With multiple key players, including quarterback Derek Kyler ’21 and cornerback Darren Stanley ’21, returning for the 2020 season, the team had high hopes as it aimed to build upon its record 19 Ivy League championships

Splitting time at quarterback with Jared Gerbino ’20 last season, Kyler led the league in passing efficiency with a 183.87 rating, setting a Dartmouth record and producing the highlight of the season with a last-second 45-yard Hail Mary pass to cap off a 96-yard drive and defeat Harvard University. Stanley made the 2019 All-Ivy Second Team and Phil Steele All-Ivy First Team for the Big Green, leading the Ivy League in 2019 with 14 pass breakups and tying for the lead with 15 passes defended.

“Before all this … we were still very confident,” Kyler said, “I mean, we just won the Ivy League championship, we had a lot of key guys returning, especially on the offensive side. And defense, that's been our staple for years now, so we weren't too worried about that.”

However, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the team’s fall intercollegiate competition, and the Big Green is currently working to accommodate for on-campus restrictions as it eases into its restricted practice schedule.

Teevens said that the team will have a “socially distanced introduction” to practices after quarantine ends next Monday. Initially, the training staff will closely monitor conditioning, assessing players’ physiological and cardiovascular health.

Following that initial phase, Teevens said that the team will gather in smaller “pods” of under 10 people to run through on-field work for the rest of the quarter. He added that he imagines Dartmouth’s MVP remote tackling dummies will play a major role in the socially distanced practice environment. 

Teevens said that the team has roughly 60 players on campus, just over half its normal roster, so the dummies will play a key role in working through new “formations, or adjustments, or movements.” 

“We'll use those extensively, and we're very fortunate to have a good number of them on campus,” Teevens said, “When we get the tackling phase, which is a big thing with our guys, and blocking, rather than engage another human being we can engage the MVP and just wipe it off and redo it.”

According to Teevens, practices will be geared to prepare the team for a competitive season beginning in the spring, although there has been no confirmation that a football season will occur during the 2020-21 academic year. Stanley said he is expecting to know more after the Ivy League Council of Presidents reevaluates the prospect of a spring season around Jan. 1, 2021.

“I think the players and coaches are pretty much prepared for anything at this point,” Stanley said. “And if they say we'll have a spring season, we'll play it, but it's pretty much still very up in the air.”

No matter the team’s efforts to mimic normal fall practices, Kyler and Stanley said that it would be challenging to replace the routine of a regular season, especially for players who have gone through the same routine for years.

“I've played practically my whole life now, and it's a really big part of my life,” Kyler said, “It was a shock for sure, but it's another year just for me to keep preparing even harder.”

Stanley said that he misses the regular interactions he would normally be having with his teammates at this point in the fall.

“What I miss the most is definitely my teammates, just being around them,” he said, “Since during this time I'm so used to pretty much being around them 24/7, on the field, or in the locker room, or just walking around campus.”