Four hundred sixty-nine days.
That’s how long it has been since Shorter Hawks football last took the field against another opponent.
After a one-win 2019 season, Shorter set its sights on improving for fall 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the Gulf South Conference postpone the season to the spring of 2021, only adding to the hope then anticipation of a football season.
The day has finally arrived. For the first time since November 2019, it’s a Shorter football Saturday.
“It’s hard to even fathom for the kids because I know, as coaches, we love the game of football so much, but for the kids, the players, student-athletes, ... you’ve got some that are like ‘Coach, I didn’t sleep! I’m so excited,’” Hawks head coach Zach Morrison said in a phone interview. “They are extremely excited and ready for the opportunity to play a game.”
After the GSC postponed football, Morrison explained every team in the conference essentially became an NCAA Division II “free agent.”
“At first, it was you could only play half of your original schedule,” Morrison said. “We only have five games on the docket because I wanted to keep eligibility for everyone because you do have some seniors who want to come back for another year.”
Morrison, entering his third season with the program, is excited to have most of his team back with another year of collegiate experience. Shorter will have 10 seniors this season. Altogether, there will be 50 upperclassmen.
With a fairly young squad, the Hawks went 1-10 in 2019. The lone victory, a 37-7 thumping of Allen University on senior night, was Shorter’s first win since Oct. 3, 2015.
The Hawks’ defense improved considerably from 2018 to 2019. In 2018, Shorter surrendered 556 points and an average 500.5 yards per game. In 2019, the Hawks allowed 384 total point and 454.2 average.
The Hawks did lose some key seniors from 2019.
One of Shorter’s biggest losses was all-conference defensive end Terrance Snellings. Snellings racked up 53 tackles, including 14.5 tackles-for-a-loss and 6.5 sacks. He also forced four fumbles.
To fill Snellings’ role, Morrison said Shorter has options in fifth-year senior DJ Walden, incoming freshman Bryan Rice and Andrew Barnes. Aside from Snellings’ departure, the Hawks return their entire defense.
Another big loss is quarterback Tyler Pullum. Pullum started 32 games under center for the Hawks. To fill the void, Morrison touched on the coming quarterback competition between sophomore Aeneas Dennis, redshirt junior Brandon Dickerson, redshirt sophomore Jacob Brumby and incoming freshmen Harold Cook and Joseph Nieves.
“(Cook and Nieves) were first-team all-state quarterbacks in Florida. We also have ... Jacob Brumby who played in two games last year from Pickens County High School,” Morrison said on his quarterbacks last fall. “We’re excited about the quarterback competition. I think Aeneas has a little bit of a leg up because he played and started a couple of games for us last year, but that quarterback position, ... come in and compete for the job.”
Morrison will also be replacing graduated wide receiver Elijah Gilbert, who currently owns the record of all-time receptions in Shorter football history. Morrison does have experience, as well as some newcomers at receiver expected to step up such as Lanadrick Bradley.
Morrison explained January, February and the first two weeks of March 2020, that’s exactly what happened, referring to it as “elite.”
“It was the guys giving maximum effort all the time, holding players accountable,” Morrison said. “No one missed.”
COVID-19’s first wave across the United States shut down college sports from coast to coast.
Given the drastic changes from over the summer, Morrison said a lot of team time has been through conditioning and Zoom calls. He emphasized how committed the team appeared in summer preparation.
“Overall, the depth that we have now is incredible compared to where we’ve been for the last couple of years,” Morrison said. “In terms of where we’ve been to where we’re at, it’s night and day. It’s night and day.”
Students arrived back on Shorter’s campus at the beginning of January. At the start of February, the Hawks hit the field, in preparation for a spring 2021 schedule.
“We’ve got a good bit of practice number our belt. It was really just focusing on the details of what we want to do offensively, defensively and special teams-wise,” Morrison said. “You think about it being that much time between the last game and now, I think they’re ready to hit someone in a different-color jersey.”
Shorter opens its spring 2021 season at Kennesaw State University, with kickoff set for 1 p.m. at Fifth-Third Bank Stadium.
“They do run the option and they have led the country in rushing the last couple of years and we expect to see them run the ball a lot on Saturday,” Morrison said. “I think that we’ve got a good game plan. We’ve got to execute that game plan.”
“I expect the team to come together,” Morrison said. “I’m looking for us to make some noise and win some games this spring.”