JACKSON TWP. College football may seem a long way off, with games not starting until nearly Labor Day most years, but fans of the sport know the foundations for season itself are laid months prior to the opening kickoff.
Perhaps no group of players has a bigger adjustment to make during the lead-up to the season than incoming freshmen, who not only join a new team with a hundred of so teammates they don't know, but who move often hundreds of miles from home and make the leap from high school to college life.
With all of that on their plate, it's no wonder that athletes such as Jackson senior Jake Ryan have a bit of trepidation as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has left sports and society with lots of questions and few answers when it comes to various public events and activities resuming.
"It's stressful right now not knowing what's going to happen," Ryan said. "I'm supposed to leave (for campus at Colgate) the week after July 4."
He noted that adjusting to college would be tough on its own, but to get acclimated to college and potentially have his first semester be online classes would be more difficult still.
Going to a new school presents all the expected challenges of not knowing where things are, how campus works and what a daily schedule looks like.
With college campuses now virtual ghost towns due to the pandemic, even traveling to the Colgate University campus in Hamilton, N.Y., isn't possible for Ryan.
Of course, his Colgate teammates who are already enrolled and have been part of the program have their own challenges, namely having spring football canceled and their spring game axed as well.
If postponements, cancellations and closures continue on past early summer, it could well put the fate of the season as currently scheduled in doubt.
"I think it's pretty likely that the season is going to be different than most season, either pushed back, or playing games without crowds," Ryan said, echoing ideas that many around the game have debated in recent weeks. "But it's still football and you still line up and try to beat the guy across from you."
At home now, he's fortunate to have a friend with a small weight room in his garage, so Ryan is able to work out even if he can't get out on a football field and do drills and catch passes.
His Colgate coaches have weekly position meetings and as a receiver and special teams participant, he's able to take part in the online meetings and at least start to integrate into his new team.
"You try to get mental reps right now and even though it's not the same, you do get a greater understanding of the playbook and that helps," Ryan said.
He's kept in touch with former Jackson quarterback Jaret Pallotta, now a sophomore quarterback at the University of Massachusetts, and they've talked about how every college player is in the same position in terms of not knowing when the season will begin and not being able to prepare for it as they normally would.
Football players and coaches thrive on preparing, studying and training year round, doing everything they can to get ready and to outwork their opponents before games begin.
Now, those work-centric players and coaches can't work as they normally would and know that if and when the season happens, they won't be able to enter is as prepared as they'd like.
It likely won't ease their minds too much, but there is the knowledge that everyone else is facing the same reality.
"I know it's tough, especially for the returning players not being able to have spring practices and games and my team at Colgate May be more unprepared than previous years because of that, but so is every other team in America," Ryan said.
It's far from ideal, but as they wait and do their best to stay healthy and ready, players and coaches have to do their best and use the tools at their disposal to get ready in unique ways.