Spring weather is here to stay, and with flowers starting to bloom, the hawks come back to play. The Crimson Hawks, unfortunately, will have to wait a little longer to migrate back to Indiana.
Like countless programs around the country, the IUP football team hasn’t been able to hold its spring practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been anything but a typical spring, but the Crimson Hawks are making the best of it.
“Obviously the most important aspect is not physically having spring practice,” coach Paul Tortorella said. “We have workout schedules every week for the players, if they have access to a weight training room at home, and also a running program.”
Spring is important for players because it gets them back into their in-season routines. It also helps coaches gauge where the team is at certain positions.
“This has a huge effect because we aren’t able to lift how we want to and work out with who we want to,” cornerback Nazir Streater (senior, management) said. “Also, we would be in spring ball right now, so we would at least be in pads and letting younger guys get reps to learn the defense more and become comfortable.”
IUP has many holes to fill next season, assuming there will be a season. The team is losing 20 seniors from last year’s team, many of whom were multi-year starters.
The first question mark comes on the offense with the starting quarterback. Quinton Maxwell had one of the best individual seasons in school history in 2019 and was a solid replacement for Lenny Williams. Unfortunately for Tortorella, there will be a new man behind center for the third time in as many years.
The battle that was supposed to start during spring practices was between Javon Davis (redshirt sophomore, math education and accounting) and newly transferred Alex Ramart (redshirt sophomore, kinesiology health and sport science). Davis redshirted in 2018 after serving as Williams’ backup his freshman year. Ramart, who is already taking classes at IUP, is a former two-star prospect from Akron University.
At the moment, there is not a presumed favorite to take the job. Both come in the same age, but does the extended break give Davis the advantage? It is a question that will remain unanswered for now.
The biggest question mark surrounding the offense might be the offensive line. The Crimson Hawks lost four of their five starters to graduation, including center Jeff Arnold, who was named to the Associated Press (AP) Division II All-America Second Team.
The positive is that IUP gets younger across the line. The Crimson Hawks enter the year with only one senior and still have plenty of experience with six junior linemen.
Needless to say, the offense is not the only side of the ball losing key contributors. The defense also lost at least one playmaker at each position group.
Dondrea Tillman led the Crimson Hawks in sacks each of the past three years to headline the defensive line. Damon Lloyd and Nick Amendola were one of the best linebacker duos in Division II, and JR Stevens will be sorely missed in IUP’s secondary.
Lloyd was also selected to the AP Division II All-America Second Team in 2019.
Stevens, meanwhile, was first-team All-American as a redshirt sophomore in 2017.
“Obviously losing Damon and JR, as well as others, are huge,” Streater said. “But I’m confident that we will find who we need and whoever needs to step up will step up.”
It will be players like Streater that will need big years. He will be No. 1 on the depth chart this season after the loss of Stevens.
Last season was a breakout year for Streater as he led the team and was tied for 14th in the nation with six interceptions.
With practices being canceled for the foreseeable future, the coaching staff will likely lean heavily on the leadership of its 11 seniors. And Zoom meetings.
“I can speak for some of us seniors, saying that we are still finding a way to work,” Streater said. “When camp comes around or whenever we are able to get back on the field, we will be ready to fly around and get better. This is our last season in college, so it has to be the best.”
There is currently no word on whether the season will start on time. Tortorella remains optimistic there will still be a season, and if there is, he knows his team will have to work even harder to make up for lost time.
“We definitely will need to practice a little longer in preseason camp,” Tortorella said.
Coaches, fans and players alike are hoping to get back to Frank Cignetti Field at George P. Miller Stadium as soon as possible to cheer on their Crimson Hawks.
Hopefully for them, migration season won’t last much longer.