BIG RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Taking practice swings before teeing off the front nine holes at Katke Golf Course in Big Rapids, all Tony Annese could do was force a smile.
“I’ve never been on a golf course in August in my life,” he said.
The reason? Because he’s entering his 9th year with Ferris State and 39th as a coach of football. Normally, this was when the first week of true practices started.
Instead, as of Monday, the GLIAC announced a cancellation of all fall sports. For his Bulldogs, they were coming off making the playoffs for a sixth straight year and making it to the national title game in Division II.
Now, they have to wait.
“The main thing for us right now is the mental health of our players,” Annese said. “When you have a season set with goals and such, you have to make sure your guys are OK. I’ll be honest with you, this should only make these guys better.
“You have to keep the hunger and desire.”
With all the anticipation that goes into a football season and for it to be canceled right as practice was set to begin is already devastating. Now it will be prolonged until the spring, and even that isn’t certain with no clear ending date to the coronavirus.
For Annese personally, it wasn’t easy on him. Football is all he has known for the entirety of his adult life. The fall is spent on the sidelines, teaching kids how to play the game he has just as much of a passion for as they do.
In 2018, the Bulldogs were 15-1 and lost in the National Championship. The following season, they lost in the semifinal to West Florida in Big Rapids. Annese said it was the worst fourth quarter any of his Bulldog teams have played. He wanted nothing more than to get back to that title game in 2020.
So, without the season happening in the fall, Annese woke up the morning of, knowing the news was coming, not feeling like himself. He believes that “self-pity is the greatest form of self-destruction.” Instead of getting in his own head anymore, Annese wrote a heartfelt letter to his players.
“I wanted to ink my message to them,” Annese said. “I used our modo and core values to send a message to them. I let them know I’m feeling the same anguish and pain they are feeling, and we can all get through it together.
“We want to support them in any way we can.”
This of course also affects in-state rivals Grand Valley State University and Davenport University.
“There’s just a lot of confusion right now,” Annese said. “You hear one day this, the next day that. Do we all want to play football? Of course, we do. Do the young men deserve to play the great game? Yes, they do. But it’s easier said than done.”
FSU was 12-1 last season and 8-0 in the GLIAC. They have won 28 consecutive regular season games. All of that will be held until the next time the Bulldogs take the field.
Until then, Annese and company will try to keep their sights set on the next time they get a chance to play football, and maybe even play a little golf now and then.