On Feb. 1, Sacred Heart Athletics announced that the Northeast Conference (NEC) released a fall-to-spring schedule that would entail a four-game season for the Sacred Heart University football team.
Head coach Mark Nofri was happy for the student athletes to resume sports.
“To have something taken away from them for 18 months is sad to see, especially when it is out of their control,” said Nofri. “They want to play and compete. This gives them an opportunity to do so, even if it is four games and in the spring.”
According to Sacred Heart Athletics, each school will play four games starting March 7, two at home and two on the road, with the potential for two make-up weekends. The top two teams will meet for the NEC championship in April. All games will be played on Sundays.
“More than anything, I was just excited because in the summer when they said we were not playing, I felt the breath leave from everyone,” said redshirt sophomore quarterback Marquez McCray.
Junior linebacker DeAndre Byrd was also happy to hear the news that football would be happening in the spring.
“We were elated. We were away from football for so long,” said Byrd. “The anticipation was there but with us getting shut down last semester, we became skeptical for a while. We were just happy the schedule came out and we were ready to play.”
Since last fall, the team has been preparing as if they were still in preseason mode.
“We have been practicing, lifting and meeting all the time on Zoom. We have Wednesdays and Sundays off, but we’re getting after it every day,” said McCray.
Junior running back Julius Chestnut (JuJu), McCray, and Byrd have been taking extra measures to ensure their bodies are ready for this season.
“The hours we put in outside of the team is crazy. Some people think that we are crazy because it will be Marquez, JuJu and I going out to the field at 5 a.m.,” said Byrd. “We run around the stadium, on the field, around the school. We try to be consistent because we know if we’re working hard, we can help the team a lot.”
According to Sacred Heart Athletics, SHU will meet with Merrimack on March 21. This will be the first time the teams face off against each other since the 1997 season as Division II opponents.
“No matter who our opponent is, I expect us to play well,” said Nofri. “It is my job to have them ready to play, and it is up to the players to execute the plan for each opponent.”
Both McCray and Byrd are excited to face off against a new team.
“I watched a few of their games last year, and they are not a bad team at all,” said Byrd. “They have some playmakers, and I feel like we need to take them very seriously. If we don’t, it could be a close game.”
The first game will be held on March 7, and the Pioneers will travel to Duquesne. They will then be home for two back-to-back weekends against Long Island University (LIU) and Merrimack. Their last game will take place on March 28, away against Wagner.
“Our goal as a team is to win the NEC conference and get the automatic bid to the FCS playoffs,” said Nofri. “Take one game at a time, but starting fast and staying healthy will be a big factor on how good we are.”