AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - When the Lone Star Conference chose to postpone 2020 fall sports due to COVID-19, the Buffs football program began making plans to play football.
The football program West Texas A&M University created a schedule with teams outside of the conference willing to play this fall. The Buffs final schedule had eight games, five that would be played at home at Buffalo Stadium.
The 2020 football season kicked off with their home-opener on Sept. 19 against Oklahoma Panhandle State University. West Texas defeated the Aggies 58-7 in their first game of the season. As the season progressed the Buffs began facing COVID-19 related issues that resulted in cancellations and players testing positive for the virus. WTAMU head coach Hunter Hughes was forced to play younger, less experienced players to take the field in place of starters who were unable to play due to positive tests or contact tracing.
“True Freshman on the D-line, Victor Smith was a very nice addition and surprise for us,” said Hughes. “I thought all our young defensive backs, Gage Smith, Preston Steszewski, Braden Hay, they all got a chance to play in the game and it’s not going to hurt them and cost them a year.”
He also credited young offensive players, including Kenneath Redd Jr. and Devin Neal, for their impressive performances this season.
While it was exciting for coaches and fans to see young players emerge in games, Hughes quickly became familiar with the overwhelming feeling of waiting by the phone late at night, anticipating the news of who would be available for their next game.
“I mean it was terrible,” said Hughes. “We test on Wednesday morning and on Thursday night I’m sitting by the phone texting our trainer Luke Kasper “Hey, have we gotten our results?”
The biggest challenge the Buffs would face came ahead of their sixth game of the season against the North American Stallions on Oct. 31. After contact tracing and testing was completed the week of the Halloween game, WT learned they would take the field without a total of 35 players.
“Talk about having to adjust,” said Hughes. “We put in a whole new plan, but we expected that.”
Despite 35 guys absent from their game against the Stallions, the Buffs won in a shutout victory, 56-0.
The Buffs also made history in 2020, as the only Division II football program to play six games.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Hughes. “I’m proud of the way they handled themselves, the way the did things.”
The Buffs lost their final game of the season against the Pittsburg State Gorillas on Nov. 21. Although falling to the Gorillas wasn’t the way the program hoped to complete their season, 2020 will be one for the books.