Wait no more: Lights open spring season with first practice
In frigid conditions, MSU-N football starts prepping for C of I in their new stadium
Last updated 2/18/2021 at 8:15am
After 14 months, a cold Montana winter wasn't going to stop the Montana State University-Northern Lights from starting the long-awaited spring football season. And no, we're not talking spring ball, we're talking about a Frontier Conference football season to make up for the one lost to the coronavirus last fall.
And Wednesday afternoon, the Lights officially kicked that season off with their first practice of 2021, in their brand new Lights Stadium.
It's been quite the journey just to get to the first practice, too. Last summer, the Frontier had every intention of playing a fall season, but several times throughout the summer, it got altered or postponed, and eventually, it was canceled due to the pandemic, and a spring season was ultimately announced.
That spring season hasn't been without its challenges either. Dates have been changed, teams have opted out, and the schedule had to be redone yet again. And still, there the Lights were, practicing for a game for the first time since November of 2019.
"We're playing," Northern head coach Andrew Rolin said. "Our kids want to play, I want to play, we want to be a part of this spring season. We're excited about it."
Excited couldn't begin to describe Rolin's emotions Wednesday, even as his team prepared to go outside under sunny skies, but with the temperate hovering at 14 degrees and wind chills well below zero, and even with the newly named Tilleman Field frozen solid due to the last week of Polar Vortex weather in Havre.
"There aren't really words to describe how I feel," Rolin said. "It's sheer excitement. This has been a long time coming. So this is a very special day for us, and I'm just happy to go out there and watch these kids do what they love to do."
It has been a long time. Northern last played on Nov. 16, 2019. The Lights then last 2020 spring ball to the pandemic, before they did manage to get several weeks of a fall camp in back in September and October. However, Wednesday was the first time the Lights had taken the practice field with the intent on prepping for a game, which will come March 13 at College of Idaho, in nearly two years. And Rolin said, he isn't wasting any time.
"We're diving right in," he said. "Today and tomorrow are install days just like they would be during the first two days of any fall camp. That's how we're treating this. We'll be smart about it. We may not go every single day. We're going to make sure we have the health and safety of our players as our main priority in everything we do. But at the same time, we're getting after it from the start, and it's really exciting. I know our guys are so excited to be out there."
Rolin said the Lights should be able to get 14 or 15 practices in before they head to Caldwell, Idaho, to face the defending Frontier champion Yotes. Under the new four-game schedule approved Wednesday night, the Lights will also play at Carroll College March 27, before playing back-to-back home games against Rocky Mountain College April 3 and Eastern Oregon April 10.
And at the end of the day, that's what it's all about. It's about taking the field, playing games and moving forward. And Wednesday, as cold as it may have been, was the first step in the Lights doing just that, it was the first step in moving forward.
"Our guys have been very resilient," Rolin said. "They, like so many student-athletes during all this, have been through a lot. They've done a lot, we've asked a lot of them. And so now it's time to reap the rewards of handling this the right way, of doing things the right way.
"So today is very special for all of us," he added. "Our guys need this, they need to play the game they love. And I'm just so happy for them that they're going to get to do that."
Northern is slated to open the spring 2021 season March 13 at College of Idaho. MSU-N will also debut Lights Stadium on April 3 against Rocky, with a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Frontier announced earlier this week that fan policies for the spring football season will be announced at a later date.