J.J. Eckert

Northeastern State head coach J.J. Eckert coaches during spring drills in March 2019 at Doc Wadley Stadium.

J.J. Eckert is seeing things from a different perspective.

Eckert, now in his second year as Northeastern State football head coach, had his spring schedule wiped away after just three days of practice on Friday, March 13.

The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association initially announced the postponement of all sporting events and activities on the same day the RiverHawks held their final spring practice. The following week on March 17, the conference shut down everything.

“We got three days in,” Eckert said on Tuesday. “When you think of that aspect of it, being able to get three days in out of the 15 we were allotted, to be able to sit there and say we got three practices in, I feel kind of lucky because we were really concerned whether or not we were going to get the second and third ones in with the way things were trending that week. So, we’re really fortunate that we were able to get those in. You’d love to have the opportunity to get all 15 of them, but three is a lot better than zero for sure.”

Eckert is now, like many others, focused on what’s going on around the world with the outbreak of COVID-19.

He’s never been put in an eerie situation like this. He’s living outside the norm.

“It’s concerning,” he said. “Initially, you hear about it going back to being in China, and all of that was [three] months ago, and now it’s right here in our own backyard. I think that’s really concerning, so it’s been tough. You watch the news every day to see how many people have been affected by it and just pray we’re able to get this thing under control. It’s a very scary situation.”

It was a bizarre situation for all those involved with the football program.

“They were all kind of just trying to figure it out,” Eckert said. “I mean when you look across the world, we’re all in the same kind of boat where you’re trying to figure it out. I was praying on that Thursday [March 12] that we were going to be able to get this practice in, and as soon as we walked off the field to lift at about 5:05 p.m., we got a text message stating that everything will be suspended at 11 p.m. that night. So, I think at that moment, I was like, ‘Wow.’”

There’s other obstacles for Eckert.

How do his players stay in shape?

“Yeah, that’s a challenge,” Eckert said. “When you think about all that is being closed right now, it’s challenging. I mean it’s like going back to the old Herschel Walker days and doing push-ups and sit-ups. That’s what it really turns into. You’re not able to do a whole lot of the things you’re accustomed to doing.

There’s recruiting.

“We had Junior Day coming up this Saturday,” Eckert said. “We were getting ready to have hopefully 150 to 250 kids on campus with their families. That was going to be that initial kickoff to this whole 2021 group, not just evaluating them but getting them on campus. It’s a tough deal.”

There’s the adjustment for his student-athletes taking online-only classes.

“Most importantly, we’re concerned about our student-athletes and their families, and their well-being and their safety and making sure they can stay healthy,” Eckert said. “Yesterday was a big day, just trying to make sure everybody had a smooth transition, a seamless transition in their online classes.”

Now, Eckert can only wonder what happens next. It’s all he can do.

He’s not the only one.

“Everybody’s going through it, it’s just being able to now pray that we can get back to normalcy, as not just a country, but across the world,” Eckert said. “Hopefully I can get back to what we consider our normal day living because right now it’s kind of tough with all the things that are taking place.”

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