Inside the Hash Marks: A Long Journey

In a new column, Dartmouth long snapper Josh Greene ’23 reflects on the team’s preparation and return to game action after the long COVID-19 layoff.

by Josh Greene | 9/20/21 2:05am

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Source: Courtesy of Josh Greene

In a new column for the fall, Dartmouth long snapper Josh Greene ’23 will be relating his experience playing for the Big Green, covering topics such as the team’s preparation following COVID-19, the academic-sport-life balance required of an athlete at an Ivy League school and other musings on his experience in Hanover. This first column reflects on Greene’s experience returning to play this weekend against Valparaiso University. After the column was written, the Big Green won, 28-18.

It’s been a long time coming. Spring practice, 6:15 a.m. morning workouts all summer and a grueling training camp are now all in the rearview mirror. As I write this, I, along with my teammates, are on our way to the Manchester airport for our flight to Indiana for our game against Valparaiso. Of course, a few more things have happened along the way that makes this day of travel worth it. I think that I’ll allow myself the liberty of speaking for all of my student-athlete classmates at Dartmouth: It’s about time. About time that we get back on the field with our best friends. About time we get to play the games that we love in front of our peers. About time we get to fill that void that has been missing for a year and a half.

Throughout the pandemic, I’ve heard from many of my classmates about how they were robbed of seasons, of time with their teammates and of valuable instruction from coaches. We can all remember how it started; I know I do. I recall being at a Major League Baseball spring training game in Florida when the Ivy League canceled the 2020 men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments. At first, we were outraged: How could they rob our Ivy League peers of a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament? That was followed by a more reluctant understanding of the circumstances when things got worse. Then, there was nothing. Everyone was stuck at home with limited access to the games that we all love so dearly. I, personally, felt disoriented with no sports being played all spring and summer. But, as I prepare for my first game of college football ever — and my first football game in three years — I remember a time when there was no hope.

On a typical summer day (well, typical for the pandemic), I logged onto Zoom for our weekly team meeting. We knew that it was a possibility that our season would get postponed until the spring or even canceled, but none of us wanted to believe it. So, when we got the word that we wouldn’t be playing football for a while, the disappointment was resounding. We all knew that the country needed healing in more ways than one, and for many of us, sports represents an escape from the trials of life. At that time, we didn’t have a game to play and didn’t know when we would get the chance again.

Of course, this is the part of every sports story where the post-adversity drive kicks in and everyone works harder than they ever have before. As a team, we did work hard, but this was different from your average triumphant sports film. We could lean on each other only through phone calls and our Zoom meetings. Many of us didn’t have someone there to spot our bench press reps or pick us up off of the ground after making a hard cut on the dew-soaked grass during a morning workout. And then there were the additional worries about teammates’ and coaches’ well-being. 

Throughout all this, we kept in mind a phrase that was often spoken by our head coach Buddy Teevens ’79: “A and I, Adjust and Improvise.” During a time when we didn’t know when we would play our next football game, all we could do was adjust to our situation and improvise our tactics for preparation. So in the approximately two years between regular season games, you could say we did a lot of A and I.

But time slowly dragged on, and eventually, we made it to training camp. We had survived the obstacles of not having the full team on campus, wearing masks in the weight room and (somehow) under our helmets and evading the strict positivity rate that threatens to shut our program down on a daily basis (5% of the team, so for us, about six players). That may seem like a lot to go through on paper, and believe me, living through it has been wild, but the destination has been worth the journey. 

Tomorrow, we actually get to tackle players from a different school. Personally, I haven’t stepped on a football field for a meaningful play in years, and all I can say is that I’m excited. One of our assistant coaches stood up in our latest meeting and said how hard it was to watch other teams play last year while we sat at home. He understands what playing sports at the collegiate level, with your best friends, means to us. I’ve come to realize that it’s not just myself and my fellow student athletes who missed playing, but it’s also the Dartmouth community that has missed watching us play. The joy we feel playing is reciprocated by the members of the community, and that is something worth waiting two years to play.

I plan on getting insight from athletes on other teams throughout the term to see how they are dealing with competing in this new COVID-19 world, but as a member of the football team, it’s going to feel amazing to be out on the field with the boys. The football field is an island: Nothing else matters when you’re out there. No school work (that’s Sunday’s problem), no COVID-19 guidelines, no other worries to be had — just football. We will stay smart throughout the season to ensure that we get to play all ten games, but right now, tomorrow is all that matters. Let’s get it. 

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