For Cam Odom, Jared Dorsa and Austin Conrad, being able to play football this season has been a blessing.
A few months ago, it was unlikely the trio of redshirt-seniors would ever suit up again for Ohio. Yes, the Mid-American Conference said it would explore moving its season to the spring after postponing all fall sports on Aug.8, however, the likelihood of playing two seasons in 2021 seemed improbable.
Still for Odom, Dorsa and Conrad, playing one last year for the Bobcats was a dream worth clutching to. If the season came back, they would be ready. And on Sept.25, they were.
That Friday afternoon, the Bobcats learned after 48 days the MAC was back. Ohio had to watch other teams play on Saturdays, now it would be joining the fun. The Bobcats would only get a six-game season and a potential shot at a MAC title. At least they finally had something to play for again.
“We were just out here practicing and not playing on Saturdays, watching other teams play,” Odom said. “So this process we’re going through right now is something we’re all excited about and we’re looking forward to November 4th.”
The process includes COVID-19 testing four days a week, masks at all times and limited interactions with friends and family. It’s a sacrifice that’s worth it.
“Everything about this year is completely different,” Dorsa said. “It’s just the little things, you know? If you want to go to the grocery store, you have to think twice about when you go to the grocery store. I’ve been going to the grocery at six in the morning because I know for a fact nobody’s going to be there.
All across the country teams have to deal with the same hurdles as the Bobcats. While some schools have thrived, others have failed with multiple cases of COVID-19 to show for it.
The Bobcats could be placed in the thriving category. Since the Bobcats switched to testing four times a week, no players have tested positive.
“They’ve worked tremendously hard trying to do the right things to allow us to go forward,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said. “It can be taken away from you at any time, we understand that.”
Ohio tries to maintain those numbers by wearing masks on the field and maintaining distance whenever possible. Still, the transition can be a pain.
And the Bobcats need leaders to get through it.
Not only are Odom, Dorsa and Conrad three of Ohio’s best players, in July the trio was named team captains alongside running back Julian Ross, center Brett Kitrell and defensive tackle Kai Caesar. Odom was the only two-year captain. For Dorsa and Conrad, it was an honor five years in the making.
“One thing I was taught growing up was to be a leader,” Conrad said. “It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting for my whole career.”
The wait was long, however, the job won’t be. Odom, Dorsa and Conrad have three weeks until the Bobcats play Central Michigan in the season opener and Ohio doesn’t even know who its quarterback will be. The defense has to find a way to replace All-MAC safety Javon Hagan, and don’t forget this is all happening in the midst of a pandemic.
Dorsa hopes his experience will help him lead the team to its first MAC title in 52 years. It’s not like anyone wrote him a manual on how to do it, though.
“I was good friends with Evan Croutch and he was a captain but I can’t go like ‘hey Evan how did you deal with your pandemic when you were here?’” Dorsa said.
Throughout it all, the Bobcats have stayed positive and locked on their goals.
“I’ll say one thing about this group is they really have a great attitude all the way through,” Solich said.
Part of the great attitude can be attributed to the feeling of gratitude Odom, Dorsa and Conrad feel toward the season. None of the three wanted last year to be their last year.
Because of a torn tendon in his toe, Odom had his worst season as a Bobcat in 2019. He only caught 19 passes for 207 yards and zero touchdowns. After surgery in March, Odom said he feels fine and is ready for a breakout year.
Dorsa and Conrad were the anchors of a defense that underperformed through most of the season. Eventually, the defensive problems fixed themselves, but Ohio’s chances at the MAC title were gone by then.
Because the season is back Odom, Dorsa and Conrad will be able to make the most of their last year. Well, if they want it to be their last year.
On Aug. 21, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for all fall sport athletes even if they played this season. Odom, Dorsa and Conrad all love the sound of coming back in 2021 and having a full senior season, but they know their lives might require them to move on.
“It’s tough because I came here for my five years and I don’t have another degree after this,” Dorsa said. “I’m also getting married next summer so I have a lot of life decisions to kind of work around.”
It’s not the senior season they imagined. There will be no homecoming, no crowds, the lack of celebration can feel empty, but not for Odom, Dorsa and Conrad. No matter how this season unfolds for the trio of Ohio seniors, every game, every play and every second of it all will be a blessing.