On Aug. 12, 2020, the Gulf South Conference announced the fall football season would not be happening. Along with conferences across all levels of college football, they made the decision that a football season would not be possible with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of stopping.
When asked about the cancellation, senior linebacker Jaylan Woods said the announcement was “very disappointing, but we all knew the reason why it was canceled.” The conference announced that they would be pushing all fall team sports back to Jan. 1 and monitoring to see if a spring season would be possible.
Although there will be no conference season this spring, the Choctaws will still take the field in three contests, two on the road and one at home. They opened the spring season at Tarleton State on March 6.
Last season was one of the best in recent memory for the Choctaws, as they went a perfect 5-0 at home and defeated in-state rival Delta State in the Heritage Bell Classic 37-13 for their first win in the series since 1993. However, a lot of talent from that team has graduated, and head coach John Bland expects to see a lot of new leaders step up for the team in place of outgoing stars such as both the Hawthorn and Rotenberry twins. Saying that football is the “ultimate team game,” he stressed the importance of leadership and said that throughout the fall and spring practices the team was identifying leaders and trying to teach them how to “lead productively.”
Throughout practice this spring, they have continued to have to try to limit the spread of COVID throughout the team. Measures have included the usual use of masks and social distancing, as well as some measures specific to the team. They have limited contact drills to only 15 minutes per 24 hours, in an effort to minimize contact between members of the team. In place of these contact drills, they have put in place more drills where players will stay separated for the entire drill.
All of this preparation leads up to this spring season, though, as the team will finally see some action. Tarleton State is a Division I FCS team who will be playing their third game of the season. With a win over FBS New Mexico State, Tarleton State will provide tough competition for the Choctaws who will be looking for the upset. However, above all Bland expressed that he wants to come home healthy and “get a lot of people some experience.” Helping the team compete, Woods expects his defensive unit to step up this season, saying fans should expect an aggressive defense that will attack the ball and force turnovers. “We’re gonna go full speed every play, every down, and be one of those hard-nosed defenses.”
After facing Tarleton State, the Choctaws will take the field two more times in scrimmages against Southern Arkansas and Arkansas Tech. Similar to the Tarleton State game, Bland is going to focus on getting a lot of different players some experience. They face Southern Arkansas on the road on March 13, before closing the spring season with their lone home contest on Friday, March 19 at 2 p.m.