Football is back at Northern after more than a year of pandemic uncertainty.  The Polar Bears opened the 2021 season at home against Denison, drawing a crowd of more than 1,700 cheering fans. This was the first time in a long Dial-Robertson stadium heard cheers of fans in over a year under the bright lights of a Saturday night kick-off.

“It was exciting,” said Assistant Coach Austin Cordova, who is in his second season with Northern. “To see the community of Ada, faculty, staff, and family of the players come together to support what we have been building during the off-season.”

Those attendance numbers were expected. University regulations meant players received two tickets per game with outside spectators shut out.

The team’s schedule was wiped out last fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They played four spring games, finishing with a 3-1 record that included impressive home wins against Otterbein and Wilmington. The success came despite restrictions that kept attendance at Dial-Roberson Stadium below 500.

The lack of fans didn’t diminish the spirits of Coach Dean Paul’s squad and may have offered some benefits.

“The COVID season created an unspoken bond with the players,” said Assistant Coach Cody Cruzen, a 2011 Northern graduate who started four years for the Polar Bears. “If they stuck together, they would get to play”.

Besides team building, the players also had more time to develop their skills through on-field practice and extra reps in the weight room. It also allowed the class of 2024 to adjust to college life. 

“They [sophomores] are practicing like veterans and taking on leadership roles I would normally see in seniors,” said Assistant Coach Sadiq Green, who joined Coach Paul’s staff during the pandemic.

Some restrictions remain in place for fans planning to attend the game. Masks are still required inside the concession stands and bathrooms, but spectators do not need one while sitting in the stands.

The Polar Bears return to action at home this weekend after two straight road games with their record sitting at 2-1. They’ll kick off against Otterbein at 1:30 p.m.

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