NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — It’s been nearly two years since the Illinois State Redbirds played a fall football game at home.
They’ll do that Saturday when they host Butler in the season opener at 6:30 p.m.
Players are glad to back in their element: playing football in September at Hancock Stadium. And being together, which was challenging in the winter and spring.
“I think all the separation, we couldn’t meet as a team, it drove us apart,” said junior linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh. “But a big goal for us this summer was to have a lot of team activities.”
Team bonding has been a major emphasis for the Redbirds since the premature end to their injury-riddled spring season. Showing togetherness on the field is one thing but the players want to make sure that carried over off the field.
“We did many things outside of football,” said sophomore quarterback Bryce Jefferson. “Guys went on paintball trips together, had water gun fights in the neighborhood. We did this to make sure we had that camaraderie. Being together, laughing, being teammates.”
Brock Spack begins his 13th season as ISU head coach following two decades as an assistant at Purdue. Even though he’s been at this a long time, he admits he’s learned a lot about football, players and relationships in the last 18 months.
And he determined the best way to coach this year’s team is to let the players do a lot of the coaching themselves.
“In July, we want back to the old way,” Spack explained. “I told the staff to go on vacation, take their families out of here. I let the players run it. They loved that.”
His players are bonding and holding one another accountable. Saturday Spack hopes to see winning results on the field.