St. Norbert College football welcomes new conference
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – The wait is over for the St. Norbert College football team.
After a 658-day hiatus, the Green Knights return to action for the 2021 season by hosting Loras College Saturday, Sept. 4, at Schneider Stadium in De Pere.
Last playing Nov. 16, 2019, it will be almost two years since St. Norbert last played.
The Green Knights didn’t play during the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s surreal,” Dan McCarty, St. Norbert head coach said about the beginning of the season. “Aug. 10 (when we reported for camp) seems so long ago. It’s been a good camp, but we’re ready to start the season.”
Also, new this year, the Green Knights are competing in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC).
Previous longtime members of the Midwest Conference, St. Norbert was supposed to play its traditional rivals last season before the pandemic changed that.
Other members of the NACC include Aurora University, Benedictine University, Concordia University (Wis.), Concordia University Chicago, Eureka College, Lakeland University, Rockford University and Wisconsin Lutheran College.
“The new conference makes lots of sense on lots of fronts,” McCarty said. “It will be less travel, so our student-athletes will miss less class. It also brings lots of new challenges with teams we’re less familiar with. We’ll take it week by week.”
The Green Knights were voted second in the preseason conference polls behind Aurora, the defending NACC champs.
“I’ve never seen a preseason poll that determines the end-of-the-season champion,” McCarty said.
The NCAA granted student-athletes who missed their last year of eligibility another year, but McCarty said “life got in the way of many returning to St. Norbert.”
“We have eight of the 22 seniors who could have come back return,” he said. “It was emotional saying goodbye to the players and their parents who didn’t get closure on their careers. I struggled with that through COVID. Your heart goes out to them. Guys now have jobs where they’re paying for graduate school or going to law school. For many of them, logically, it was an easy decision to not return, but it was still emotional.”
McCarty said when he met with each senior on whether to come back, he had a simple question.
“I asked each of them, ‘If you come back, is it going to affect the next 40 years of your life?’ he said. “If they had a good job lined up that would set them up for life, I encouraged them to do that.”
Despite having 29 seniors, McCarty said his team is young.
“We have the largest freshman class I’ve ever recruited here,” he said. “If you think about it, our sophomore class is like a freshman class, too. They didn’t have a season or a training camp a year ago.”
McCarty said he and his coaching staff stress having the players get to know one another, so at the beginning of camp, an upperclassman is buddied with a freshman.
“It’s their role to get to know one another,” he said. “It’s also to make their transition smoother and teach them our culture – everything is new to them. We try to do it by position group, but it doesn’t always work out that way.”
McCarty said you’ll see a familiar style to his team this season.
“We’ll be physical and fly to the football on defense to create takeaways,” he said. “On offense, we have playmakers, but we have to protect the football.”
2021 St. Norbert College football schedule
9/4 – Loras College – 1 p.m. (nonconference)
9/11 – @ UW-Stout – 1 p.m. (nonconference)
9/25 – @ Lakeland University – 6 p.m.
10/2 – Benedictine University – 1 p.m.
10/9 – Wisconsin Lutheran College – noon
10/16 – @ Concordia University – 1 p.m.
10/23 – Aurora University – 3 p.m.
10/30 – Rockford University – 1 p.m.
11/6 – @ Eureka College – 1 p.m.
11/13 – @ Concordia University Chicago – 1 p.m.