Season preview: 3 things to know before this Saturday’s football opener

football players run on a field at night
Pomona-Pitzer football players run drills Tuesday at the Merritt Football Field. (Stella Favaro • The Student Life)

After more than a year off the field, the CMS and P-P football teams are set to return for a long-awaited season, opening with the two teams’ much-anticipated Sixth Street rivalry game playing Saturday at 7 p.m.

Both P-P and CMS will compete in 10 games each this season, and energy is running high for this weekend’s opening match. P-P captain Tate Tussing PZ ’21 has “been waiting about 20 months for football,” he told TSL. 

The game, he added, “should be electric.”

  • Health is a priority on and off the field

With the pandemic in mind, training will continue to follow untraditional regulations this season. Masks are worn indoors, team meetings are socially distanced and different training facility hours and rules are followed. 

However, Tussing is “eased by the fact that the whole team and staff are vaccinated and that I have smart teammates who know how to be safe during these times.”

One of P-P Head Coach John Walsh’s priorities during COVID is to make sure that the team keeps itself safe and helps the 7C campus community stay safe, too.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can because we want to play football games, we want our kids to go to class in person. And we want everyone else to be safe,” Walsh said.

  • Practice started Aug. 6 for the P-P team and Aug. 7 for CMS 

But for most student-athletes, practice also continued throughout the pandemic.

The teams had a diversity of COVID experiences. While some players had access to a gym directly in their house or in their state, other players “were standing on brothers’ couches, uncles’ couches, friends’ couches; didn’t have access to a weight room,” Walsh said.

The CMS team continued doing lifts and runs at home on their own time. 

“It almost felt like we never left,” CMS quarterback Zach Fogel CM ’23 said.

On the P-P side, Tussing noted that having Zoom meetings allowed the team to connect with the incoming first-years in closer ways than previous seasons.

“We did a lot of Zoom meetings: team meetings, football meetings, meetings about current events,” said Walsh. “And [there were] a lot of things going on in the United States and in the world, and we had a lot of discussions beyond football throughout the whole COVID year and a half off.”

For both the Stags and Sagehens, every part of the return is meaningful — not just the upcoming rivalry game. 

“We will never ever take a meeting practice weight room session game for granted ever again, because of COVID,” Walsh said.

  • P-P stars graduate, CMS welcomes optimistic “young talent”

After graduating valuable players like quarterback Karter Odermann PO ’20, a SCIAC Player of the Year who completed 134 pass attempts during the 2019 season (54.3%) for 1,618 yards,  defensive linemen Kyle Davis PZ ’21 and Josh Portnoy PO ’20, Walsh has been working hard to build “great leaders on the defense” and offense.

Cornerback Tussing and linebacker Nick Pacult PZ ’21 will be leading the defense, along with captains Mike Collins PO ’22, who plays offensive line, and wide receiver Win Hunter PZ ’21.

Along with key returners, fresh players like “Evan Flitz [are] going to light it up at QB, transfer students Julian Garrett and Garrett Pittman are going to be fun to watch fly around,” Tussing said. “Mark Carling and Nick Del Biaggio will haunt the dreams of quarterbacks and offensive coordinators around the league. And I could really go on and on.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive back Ben Cooney CM ’22 leads the CMS defense as captain and left tackle Jacob Lyle CM ’21 returns to captain the offense. 

For the Stags, having a leader return when half the team is playing for the first time is “huge,” Fogel said, because “they can really look up to him as a leader and he’s done a great job with them so far.”

The CMS team graduated a couple of their starters, but Fogel is optimistic about “a lot of young talent” on offense. 

“This is a long time coming for us,” Fogel said. “It’s been almost two years now since we’ve played a snap of real college football. And this is what we all like to do, so … there’s going to be a lot of energy out in the field on Saturday night. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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