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Lake grad, Walsh football player Zach Sturmi talks about spring football decision

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
The Suburbanite

NORTH CANTON Fall is synonymous with football across America, but especially in places like Lake Township and for people like Zach Sturmi.

Sturmi, a former Lake High School standout and current junior defensive back for the Walsh Cavaliers, grew up in the Lake community and has been putting on his helmet and stepping onto the field in the fall for well over half his life. That will change this fall as he and tens of thousands of college football players across the country have their scheduled seasons canceled or postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Great Midwest Athletic Conference recently voted to push the fall season back to spring, following the lead of numerous conferences at all levels across America. It was the latest setback in a series of them for football and fall sports in general, leaving Sturmi uncertain what comes next.

"It kind of took me back to spring when spring ball was canceled and the season changed from then on," Sturmi said. "It's frustrating and it leaves you with a lot more questions than answers."

He reflected back to the spring, when the scheduled spring football season was axed. Throughout the summer, plans were revised over and over. As the scheduled start of the season neared, there were plans to push it back by a matter of weeks, followed by doubt about playing in the fall at all.

Before the GMAC finally punted on the fall season, Walsh looked at ways it could still play in the fall despite the NCAA postponing all Division II and III fall sports championships.

Eventually, it became clear that the fall season wasn't a possibility and that left the Cavaliers to decide how to proceed.

"That's one thing I've been thinking about because all I've ever known since second grade is playing football every fall," Sturmi said. "Playing, watching ... now without a (college) season, there's going to be some high school football and hopefully some pro football to watch."

How the high school and NFL seasons play out will be closely watched across all levels of the sport, and perhaps lessons learned from watching will be applicable to college football once it resumes. But there is a question for many college players about whether they will be able to play in the spring.

Some, including several members of the Walsh roster, are seniors close to graduating. Of that number, a few are set to graduate at the end of the year. Sturmi pointed to some of his teammates who were planning on being on campus only in the fall and now have to decide whether to continue with classes for the first two quarters of the academic year and therefore miss out on a possible spring season, or wait to finish their studies until spring so they can play football one more season.

"Right now, the tentative plan in the fall is to have what we would consider a spring season, have 15 practices and a short time to get them in," Sturmi said. "We're also supposed to have a lifting program that will look different because of Coronavirus, and at the end of it we'll have a spring game, except in the fall."

One way Walsh's academic year is designed to adapt to the pandemic is the quarters system, which will provide a chance for university administrators to possibly adjust logistics and class operations after the first quarter if the situation shifts.

Classes are slated to be in-person, something Sturmi is excited about after experiencing some challenges with online classes in the spring. The standard COVID-19 safety protocols of wearing masks and staying six feet apart from one another whenever possible with govern classroom functions and with those in place, there is some level of comfort for Sturmi, even if a few concerns linger.

"The response to a positive test will be interesting, because it's not so much if, but when that happens," Sturmi said. "I'd hate to have one person in my class to be positive, then have quarantined for two weeks because of that."

As a biochemistry major, he's written a paper on the virus and feels like he has a baseline for understanding parts of the virus, but that knowledge has helped him realize how much more there is about COVID-19 that isn't yet known. Long term, Sturmi wants to attend medical school and is currently in the process of applying. He isn't sure what area of medicine he wants to go into, but believes medical school will help him clarify that focus.

This fall, without football, there will be more time to focus on academics, but there could also be a level of rust built up for players should a spring season take place. By the time such a season kicks off, it would be well over a year since players' last official game, which is a world of difference from the usual nine or 10 months between the end of one season and the start of another.

"When you get into the games and you build up that endurance, that's something that's hard to build back upM but as much break as we're having, it could benefit us and guys that weren't healthy could be back for spring, plus we're going plenty of time to do installs," Sturmi said. "There is definitely going to be that rust, though."

There will also be those unfamiliar gaps on Saturdays; a void where college football typically exists. Even if Division I conferences such as the Big 12, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference are able to make good on plans to have football this fall, most of Division I, along with II and III, will be sidelined. It's set to be a very unusual fall for Sturmi and his teammates and they're left to wait and see when football will return for them.