Prairie View football coach Eric Dooley doesn’t mince words when it comes to how he felt not being able to roam the sidelines last fall.
The SWAC, like several conferences around the country, decided to delay the fall season until the spring in hopes of the nation having better control on the spread of COVID-19. So Dooley did what he is unaccustomed to doing, and that is stand idle last fall.
“For me to be doing this for the last 30 years, that was probably the worst time of my life.” Dooley said. “I couldn’t find things to comfort what I love doing.”
But he feels a lot more comfortable these days as he and the Panthers prepare for the unprecedented SWAC spring football that was supposed to get started in earnest this weekend. The Panthers’ annual State Fair Classic showdown against Grambling State in Dallas on Saturday, however, has been postponed due to the lingering fallout from last week’s snow storm on the Cotton Bowl.
Texas Southern’s opener at Arkansas-Pine Bluff has also been postponed because of last week’s storm that brought the region to a temporary halt.
But Dooley is still excited about the abbreviated conference schedule his Panthers will get to play this spring. This spring will be the first time the Panthers have touched the field competitively since the fall of 2019.
“The players, as well as the coaches are extremely excited because when things are taken away from you or put on pause for a while you just don’t know when it’s going to happen,” said Dooley, whose team now open the spring schedule March 6 by hosting rival TSU in what is usually the neutral site Labor Day Classic. “But now that we are so close, I can see a lot of excitement in the air and guys are just ready to go.
“We have been doing the best that we can do and I feel good about where we are. I can say that the players are excited and very enthused.”
The Panthers, who return most of their starters on both sides of the ball from last season’s 6-5 overall and 4-3 SWAC finish, are one of the top-three preseason favorites in the East Division. Texas Southern, meanwhile, is expecting to improve on its winless campaign.
“I’m looking forward to the season. It’s unprecedented,” said TSU coach Clarence McKinney, who is entering his second season. “Our guys are excited. We had an opportunity to get together this fall and try to improve as a team to be ready for this upcoming season.”
Both the Panthers and Tigers have some holes to fill, particularly at the quarterback position. But the elephant in the room that all teams are dealing with this spring is COVID-19. Two-time defending SWAC champion Alcorn State opted out of the spring schedule due to COVID-19 concerns around its program, and the Mississippi Valley State-Jackson State opener this weekend has been postponed because someone connected to the MVSU program tested positive for the virus and several players have been forced to quarantine as part of protocol.
The league is going forward fully aware of the potential interruptions due to the coronavirus this spring. There will be a couple of weeks between the end of the SWAC season and the May 1 conference championship in the event that teams will need the open week to make up for games lost.
TSU and Arkansas-Pine Bluff have already rescheduled their opener for April 24.
“We are excited to get football obviously going and that is about it, I will be honest,” said TSU athletic director Kevin Granger. “During this COVID time we are just keeping our fingers crossed because you can be ready to play a game and get to the time when it’s time to take off and three, four, seven or six or even more of your kids can test positive.
“We are excited about getting close to that point, but we are also extremely concerned because until they actually hit the field we don’t know.”
Still, Dooley says he is looking forward to this season and getting back to what he loves doing. He also views the potential uncertainty of the season as a great life learning lesson for dealing with unexpected curves.
“The thing that kind of helped us in a sense is we pride ourselves on sudden change,” Dooley said. “So, that right there gets us ready because things in life just don’t go in order. Sometimes you have to make adjustments, sometimes you have to make a sudden change but you can’t complain. You just have to find a solution.
“The players bought into that and they understand what we mean by that because things are changing and constantly changing. First, we had the pandemic and that was very challenging, and still is. But then you move forward to a winter storm and who would have thought anything of a winter storm at this time right now. But they made adjustments and they understand.
“I think what it does is makes you evaluate a little bit more just how much do you really love this game.”
Follow Terrance Harris on Twitter @terranceharris