Dayton Flyers football team returns to practice, hopes for spring season

Rick Chamberlin’s team will progress to full-pads practices next week

The first fall without football at the University of Dayton since 1946 has not been wasted by the Dayton Flyers.

Coach Rick Chamberlin’s team returned to workouts in mid-October and will progress to full-pad practices next week.

The Flyers have also passed the time by watching old Dayton football highlight reels as a group in the Collins Gym. They sit in folding chairs spaced apart.

“The guys have been getting a kick out of it,” Chamberlin said. “They see the history and tradition of Dayton football.”

Few coaches in college football at any level are more equipped to speak about their program’s history than Chamberlin, who is in his 13th season as head coach and his 45th in the program as a player and coach. Chamberlin has shown the players footage of the 1978 team, the first to make the playoffs, the 1980 national championship team and the 1993 Pioneer Football League championship team among others.

“I give them a little history about what they just watched before or after,” Chamberlin said. “I’ve really enjoyed sharing my memories about those teams.”

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The current Flyers hope to create new memories. Whether that happens in the spring or if the 2020 season never takes place and they don’t return to game action next fall is still unknown. The PFL cancelled the fall season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The league presidents and ADs are working through the details of doing a spring season,” Chamberlin said. “I would anticipate something being decided before kids go home for Thanksgiving. You’ve got to tell your kids before they go home. There’s a lot of challenges: weather and facilites and travel and (COVID-19) testing and all the fall sports doing it at the same time.”

Dayton wants to be ready in case there is a season. That’s one reason it has returned to practice.

“Three weeks ago, we reached a point where medically, our doctors on campus felt we were at a level where it would be safe for us to do what the NCAA allows us to do, which is one-hour practices with our players in helmets,” Chamberlin said. “These are walkthroughs. It’s not offense versus defense. There’s not any kind of contact. We kept medical protocols and social distance. We split the team in half and had two different practice times. No touching. All those things. It was a lot of individual work, some technique work and some knowledge work, getting guys to learn some things. We’ve been doing that for the last two weeks.”

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Dayton has been allowed to practice four times a week for one hour. Players wear clear, plastic face-shields on their helmets. Coaches wear masks or shields. Chamberlin prefers the shields.

Starting Friday, Dayton will return to more normal practices with larger groups and more team drills. Next week, it will put on shoulder pads for the first time and progress to full-padded practices with tackling.

Dayton will hold 14 of those practices in all. Each will last 90 minutes. The final one will be Nov. 21.

Even with the uncertainty about what will happen in 2021, Chamberlin has enjoyed getting to see his players face to face — from six feet apart — for the first time in months.

“From the time they got on campus in August until three weeks ago, all we could do was virtual meetings,” Chamberlin said. “To really get in front of them, that just meant the world to us. You could see it. They were so happy to be out there. Dayton football is about more than wins and losses. That’s our tradition. We have a tradition of winning. But the whole idea is growth: both as people and as football players. We’re accomplishing that. We really are.”

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