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Quick Camp: Lights learn, grow and get better after 13 practices

With no game to play, MSU-N fall camp wrapped up last week, but the Lights hope to return to practice next month


Last updated 9/3/2020 at 8:12am

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern head coach Andrew Rolin watches his Lights practice last week. Northern held 13 practices for fall camp, though the 2020 season has been moved to next spring.

Andrew Rolin has learned a lot during the last six months. After all, the third-year head coach of the Montana State University-Northern Lights hasn't been able to do what he loves the most - which is coach his team on the football field. COVID-19 has made sure of that.

"During this whole experience, I've learned we take way too much for granted," Rolin said. "So I've learned, we need to be grateful for what we have. Every day is a blessing, and for this program and these kids, and us as coaches, getting to play football, getting to coach football, or getting an education, it's all a blessing."

Indeed Rolin speaks for many of us when he says we took too much for granted. And yet, he certainly did take the last two weeks for granted.

Despite the Frontier Conference pushing the 2020 season into next year, Northern was on the practice field the last two weeks, and that's something the Lights haven't done since last fall, when they went 1-10 overall, but showed flashes of a young team finally coming of age.

"We were able to get 13 practices in," Rolin said after Northern concluded their fall camp last weekend. "So for one thing, I feel like we made up for lost time from not having spring ball. But another huge bonus is, we were able to have all our freshmen and our transfers out there competing, and learning our system on the football field. So in many different ways, we made a lot of progress these last two weeks."

That was the point. Because Northern didn't have a game to prepare for, the Lights would have opened their season Sept. 18 at Montana Tech, the last two weeks was Rolin helping his team do what he continues to preach to them - get better. From installing a new defense under coach Rich Stubler, to a four-way battle for the starting quarterback job, to just building depth and getting better on an individual basis, Rolin said the training camp was a success.

"It was a great fall camp from so many aspects," Rolin said. "Things like the fact we're going to a new defense. That takes time to learn, so this last two weeks was huge. And even just from a competition standpoint, being out on the field was priceless.

"I feel like we have better leadership and more maturity on this team, too," Rolin continued. "So being out there together, to continue to work on that was another huge thing for us these last two weeks. Building a team takes time, building that chemistry, you can't do that through just Zoom meetings and things like that. So being out there together, that was big. So again, this camp was a success. It was a great two weeks."

No doubt, the Lights enjoyed putting on the helmet and pads again. But one thing that was familiar was, Northern didn't have an opponent to prepare for. In fact, the Lights, and the rest of the Frontier will now not have played a game in 10 months, and likely won't until at least February, or later. Still, Rolin said, there were no issues with motivation the last two weeks. In other words, his players were fired up every day.

"Two things," Rolin said. "First, these guys are tired of being cooped up, tired of not playing football, so getting to do that again, getting to compete, even against each other, that was a huge motivator. And the second thing was, our guys are hungry, they not only want to get better, but they want to bring this program to the next level. And every day we were out there together, they could see how much better we are, and that we have a chance to be very good. So I think them just knowing that, we're going in the right direction, and that we just need to keep getting better, that was another big motivator for them every day. That, and I think just being together again, that really inspired them, too."

Inspiration is something everyone could use right now, but after two weeks, the Lights will not be back on the practice field for at least a month. Still, Rolin said that his team will continue its daily goal to get better.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Lights go through individual drills during a fall camp practice last week. Northern hopes to be practicing in its brand new stadium next month.

"We're going to use September to focus on academics, and also to get bigger, stronger, faster," Rolin said. "Then, hopefully we can get out there in October and I'm hoping to get at least three more weeks of practice in. A lot of when we can get back at it depends on when we can get in and use our new stadium. So we're taking the approach of more like what the NFL offseason looks like. We are treating these like mini-camps and OTAs, making sure we're doing everything we can to get better, and to get ready for a spring season, but also making sure we're taking care of our school, and taking care of our players' health. So that's our focus, just taking it one day at a time, and making sure, whatever we're doing, whether it's study table, or in the weight room, we're getting better."

That's the goal. The Lights want to get better, and they want to win. At some point, they'll get that chance. At some point, the next season will come, but for now, Rolin is cherishing the last two weeks, where the Lights finally got to play some football.

"It was a blast to be back out there with this team and these coaches" Rolin said. "Another thing I've learned through all of this, and something we've talked to our guys about is, things could be worse, but they're not. We're going through some tough times now, but we are still together, we are getting an education, we are going to play football again. So we've worked really hard to maintain a positive attitude. You have to. You have to stay positive, and just keep going, and I think this last two weeks, our guys did a great job of that."


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