DURHAM, N.H. – Normally the annual Blue-White Game is the last action we see from University of New Hampshire football before the school year ends. This year, however, this is just the start of the action for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA). CAA Media Day – which normally takes place in July – was held via Zoom last week as UNH and the rest of the league prepares for the first week of March.
UNH will open up the season under the lights of Wildcat Stadium on Friday, March 5 when they will play host to the UAlbany Great Danes. This game will be the first time since fall of 2018 that head coach Sean McDonnell will don the Wildcat sideline. Coach Mac has been back in his full-time position since last spring after missing the entirety of the 2019 season due to medical concerns.
“It was hard,” noted Mac about sitting out last season. “It was a pretty exceptional thing to watch people do what they were supposed to do with or without me … When you watch it from afar you take great pride that the people that you put in a place of responsibility took care of what they had to do and got the job done.”
Former UNH quarterback and interim head coach Ricky Santos led the Wildcats to a 6-5 record in 2019 during McDonnell’s absence.
During McDonnell’s media availability he noted that he has been doing well. He was noticeably happy to have the athletes back on campus as they begin their meetings and practices of the spring semester.
“We’ve been away from it for six, seven, eight months now, and to have the opportunity to come back and play in March, I think everybody is looking forward to it and so excited about what’s going to happen,” he explained.
The long-time Wildcat coach didn’t seem worried about any potential roadblocks the team may face due to COVID-19 protocols. He expressed his gratitude for how the school has handled the situation since the fall and went on to note how the current winter sports have given them a blueprint for how to react to any circumstance that may arise.
Both the men’s basketball and men’s hockey teams at UNH have had stoppages in play in order to follow COVID-19 protocols and both teams have been able to return to action since then.
UNH will welcome back seven starters on each side of the ball in 2021 after saying goodbye to some of their key defensive leaders from a season ago. A defensive backfield once led by Pop Lacey, Prince Smith Jr. and Isiah Perkins will now be handed to senior safety Evan Horn. In December, Horn entered the NCAA transfer portal to explore his options but eventually made the decision to return to Durham. It’s safe to say that Coach Mac is happy to have his All-American back.
“[Horn] is the best player on our team,” said McDonnell. “When a kid that is so strong to the fabric of a program takes a look around and might be moving on, we had to have talks about it. Fortunately, good Lord, whoever it was convinced him to come back to UNH and get an opportunity to play one more season with us.”
McDonnell and the Wildcats will have five weeks to prepare for their six-game spring schedule. The slate includes CAA opponents like UAlbany, Delaware, Villanova, Rhode Island, Stony Brook and UMaine. The team is looking for their first postseason appearance since 2017 when they lost to South Dakota State in the quarterfinals.
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics