In a typical August, first-year football players from across the country arrive in Northfield for the first time, greeted by an empty campus and the suffocating humidity of summer in Minnesota. Before them lies the beginning of their collegiate athletic career and a grueling three weeks of what is collectively referred to as “fall camp.” For first-year football players, the first weeks of fall camp are where they will make relationships that will last long beyond their years at Carleton.
By design, camp brings everyone on the team closer, both on and off the field, to ensure that every aspect of the team is firing on all cylinders when the start of the season rolls around. However, this year has been anything but normal, as COVID-19 has successfully impacted every single aspect of college life, including athletics. After a long deliberation, and many possible plans, the College decided to cancel all fall athletic competitions, eliminating fall camp and denying the freshmen that unique experience.
Instead, football first years were limited to three practices a week along with some minimal team lifting and film sessions. A far cry from the morning lift, film, walk through, afternoon practice, and then late-night film that defines every day of camp in a normal year.
While both the football team and institutions on campus like the Student Athletic Advisory Committee have been attempting to organize events and activities for the freshmen to create as much of a family atmosphere as possible, the sad reality is that COVID is denying freshmen that opportunity to be a part of a team and a part of a family. There are no substitutes for the experience of fall camp: between the bonds the first years make for life, and the humbling experience of getting your butt kicked by an upperclassman in drills, fall camp is truly a unique experience for collegiate football first-years.
Most years, by the start of New Student Week, football first-years have a well established network on campus, including close relationships with upperclassmen who can guide and mentor them through the first few weeks of Fall Term. Before the pandemic, first-year offensive lineman Chris Elliot said what he was most looking forward to was “getting that community experience ” and “bonding with the team before the start of camp.” However, between the lack of camp and tough COVID restrictions on campus, Elliot said that he “only got the chance to meet half the team.” Unfortunately, Elliot’s experience was not unique.
First-year defensive-back Luis Miranda had a similar experience with his first term at Carleton, saying that because “practices did not start until a few weeks into school, I was not able to meet most of the team, and socializing was extremely limited because of COVID.” The three-practices-a-week consolation prize for the football team Fall Term was a poor replacement for the six days a week the team normally spends together, including travel, workouts and team film sessions. However, the time the team normally gets to spend off the field together is equally important to developing relationships beyond just the natural relationships that come with being on the same team.
However, with the rapid development and distribution of different vaccines, playing a complete season next fall is looking increasingly likely. Eliott and Miranda both agreed they are most looking forward to beating St. Olaf and flipping the eagle in downtown Northfield for the first time in six years.