Taking the field in front of 61,055 fans at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in his first-ever college football game was one of the most memorable moments from former Roseburg High School football standout Zack Mandera’s freshman year at Portland State University.
Unfortunately, for Mandera and college football players across the country, there may not be many of those types of highlights this coming fall.
The coronavirus pandemic has put the college football season in jeopardy and left college student-athletes wondering when they’ll take the field again.
“This off-season has definitely been a weird one,” said Mandera, who returned home to Roseburg in late March and has been waiting for instructions on when he’ll return to Portland to begin training for his sophomore season.
Mandera says he currently expects to return to the PSU campus near the end of August to begin fall camp, but he adds that right now everything is just a best guess scenario.
“It’s just been a crazy ordeal for everybody and I think everybody is just trying to figure out what is the best thing for everybody,” he said.
A popular idea for football at the college and the high school levels has been moving the sport to the spring season, when hopefully concerns and the spread of COVID-19 have started to wane.
Yet, that plan comes with a number of concerns for Mandera and his teammates.
“The big thing is, for us, depending on what time of the spring we’d be playing in,” Mandera said.
“If you do it too early, a lot of our away games are in really cold areas and if you do it later on in the spring you have to think about the recouping for the next fall season, which would only be a couple months of recovery.”
Mandera, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound linebacker for the Vikings, played in 12 games as a freshman and found out quickly how much more physical the college game is.
“That was kind of the big thing, jumping from high school to college you see way more body wear and tear and a lot of guys just had to play through the season with injuries,” Mandera said.
In a recent interview on Portland radio, PSU coach Bruce Barnum said his players voted 100% to forgo a 2020 football season if the decision was made to play in the spring, instead of the fall.
Mandera acknowledged the team’s sentiment, but said skipping a year of football wouldn’t be overly costly to him because he still has a redshirt season available. Yet, for his senior teammates, a lost season could be devastating.
Even still, the team is standing up for its own protection.
“We want the season to happen, but we just want it done as safely as possible for our health,” Mandera said. “We don’t want us getting the risk and everybody benefiting from it. We want us to be taken care of and everyone to be safe.”
So, while the Vikings are hopeful for a season this school year, they may have to wait to make more of those special moments on the field.
Mandera was looking forward to nonconference games against the Arizona Wildcats and Oregon State Beavers, but those games were canceled when the Pac-12 Conference voted to play Pac-12 opponents only this year.
“I grew up watching the (Oregon) Ducks and so playing against Pac-12 teams would have been really big for me,” Mandera said. “Especially Oregon State, you know, being only two hours away from (Roseburg). I would have been able to have a lot of people at that game.”
There is a silver lining, though.
If Mandera uses a redshirt season, he could have a chance to suit up for the Vikings as a redshirt senior in 2023 when Portland State is scheduled to play at Autzen Stadium against the Ducks.