On the second day of his first training camp at the University of Michigan, freshman linebacker Kalel Mullings woke up to an ominous text last Saturday notifying him that the coaches wanted to hold a team-wide meeting as soon as possible.
While the Big Ten conference schedule had been released the previous week, there remained a strong possibility that it was subject to change, so the team discussed the fluid situation leading into the fall. Sure enough, on Tuesday, the Big Ten became the first Power 5 college football conference to postpone the fall season, aiming instead to play a regular season schedule next spring.
“Everyone was really worried about [a postponement],” said Mullings, a former three-sport star at Milton Academy from West Roxbury who was the Globe’s 2019-2020 NEPSAC Athlete of the Year. “The speculation and rumors were always out there.”
“Obviously it sucks not being able to play. It’s what we worked for all summer, but at the same time I can see the concerns and with everything put together, can see why the Big Ten is cautious about letting us travel or get into live action.”
Soon after Mullings arrived on campus in early June, former Everett star Mike Sainristilreturned to Ann Arbor. The sophomore wide receiver said he was impressed with Michigan’s response to the pandemic, and felt safe with the team opening workouts in small groups of players who shared housing.
But as the team progressed to mini camp, news of outbreaks within other programs cast more doubt on the upcoming season. While his university might have been prepared for an unprecedented season, Sainristil wasn’t so sure about other schools.
“If the [NCAA] planned a few months ago the way they’re planning now, it probably would make sense for us to play,” said Sainristil. “I feel a month before the season starts isn’t the time to plan how to play during a pandemic. I feel like our coaches and staff had the right formula, but as a whole, the NCAA didn’t do a good enough job preparing.”
Sainristil and Mullings both plan to stay on campus until Thanksgiving, with classes scheduled to start on Aug. 27. The Wolverines will keep their facilities open for individual workouts and 7-on-7 drills will be permitted.
While he's hopeful for the spring, Sainristil said he's still trying to wrap his head around the changing routine.
“When they told us we’d play [archrival] Ohio State in October, that was a big throw off in terms of tradition,” said Sainristil, who plays a key role on special teams for the Wolverines.
“That’s a game everyone is building up to, then you hear you’re playing in the middle of the season, and now it could be sometime in the spring.”
For Mullings, the college routine is entirely new, so getting some extra time to acclimate this fall provides a small silver lining.
“This will give me more time to adjust to college in general,” said Mullings. “The more comfortable I get, the more time I’ll have to study the playbook, and the more focused I’ll be once we get on the field.”
“Really, it gives me time to become a Michigan football player, and not just an incoming freshman.”