CANYON, Texas (KFDA) - With the announcement of the annual Wagon Wheel game being canceled due to Eastern New Mexico’s decision to cancel their football season, WT Football now has to fill three games in their 2020 schedule.
“I think it’s disappointing,” Head Coach Hunter Hughes said. “I think it’s important for both schools to have that rivalry. I know for the players and the coaches. We’re gonna miss it here. And I’m sure you know, Coach Lee’s got a lot of feelings about the season in general. And you know, them not playing. And so I think the wagon wheel’s a little bit on his mind, but I think there’s other things he’s more concerned about, his players than just that one game. I do know that it has been a very emotional rivalry in the three years I’ve been here and I will say I won’t miss playing that triple option that they run because they’re so good at it. Just the rivalry itself, missing that rivalry, I think the schools are going to miss that. It’s just going to ramp it up the next year.”
Now, as conferences across the country try to decide on if and how they’ll have a football season with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, WT is faced with finding games to fill their schedule.
“Well right now, we’ve lost three games that we know of, and who knows where the dominoes could fall from all this,” Hughes said. “So we’re still preparing to play 10 games until I’m told otherwise. That’s what we’re going to do. And we’ve got 130 players in right now. And you know, they’re doing what we can. We brought them in early so we could get them used to these protocols. The NCAA has allowed that this year. The symptom checks, the wearing the mask, how we go about meetings, how we go about practice. Those are all things that we have to get out of our system so we can practice efficiently. When we plan to start August 9, the schedule itself, you know, we’re going to have to fill in some holes. But you know, we’re working diligently to do that. So you might see some non-traditional opponents on our schedule and you know, we just want to play whoever wants to keep playing and play us and get back to normalcy.”
The Buffs went 8-3 last year and 5-3 in conference play. This year, the Buffs were hoping to make another giant leap with some of their best players getting ready for their final season of eligibility.
“Well I think we look at the effect on them in their academics and they’re playing time, Hughes said about how COVID-19 is affecting players. “No, the good part about this is we have a lot of guys that want to get a master’s degree. And for some reason, if we don’t play, they can maintain their eligibility. That’s going to help them academically with our scholarships and then being able to play an extra year starting a master’s degree. The guys I feel most for are who were in position to graduate, have planned for this to be their last year, they are ready to go on about life after football. And if we don’t play, that’s one of the reasons we’re trying to play. A full schedule is for those guys so they can, you know. This might destroy their last year of playing football, so we want them to enjoy that experience.”
As of now, the Buffs’ first game of the season is slated for Sept. 5 against North American at home. However, depending on what the Lone Star Conference decides, that could change.
“Well I think that’s on the LSC,” Hughes said on the possibility of creating a schedule through a partnership with other conferences. “I’ve had no discussions with the conference office. I’ve just talked to our Athletic Director Michael McBroom. I think when the conference announced the late start, that they have to reschedule with the teams who are going to be playing. And I think right now we’ve got to find out who’s going to play and at some point, you know they’re gonna have to do what Eastern and Western New Mexico did last night and say we’re not playing or you say we’re playing and be all in from this point forward. So once we get that figured out, we get the schedule. We’ve got other teams that we’re looking at playing from all different levels, to try and schedule. So once we get our Lone Star figured out, then we can start working on other things.”