By Ray Hamill — Throughout the nation this month, tens of thousands of college football players are preparing for the upcoming season, enthusiastically dreaming of a wealth of possibilities.
So too are their fans.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case at Humboldt State, where for the first time in decades the Redwood Bowl will lie dormant on Saturdays this fall, one year after the school opted to drop the century-old tradition in the face of public outcry.
A lot has changed since that decision was made public in July of 2018, and the people responsible — former HSU president Lisa Rossbacher and former interim AD Duncan Robins — have moved on, leaving in their wake a path of destruction the likes of which the university has never seen.
The school now has a new president, a new attitude, and a fresh start.
The question for Lumberjacks sports fans and boosters is whether football gets to play any part in that fresh start.
Early indications are it could.
Addressing the issues
New school president, Dr. Tom Jackson Jr., who took over earlier this summer, has been proactive in addressing the many issues on campus, most notably the decreasing enrollment, which remains the single most important item on the agenda if HSU is to move forward instead of taking more steps back.
It’s not rocket science, it really isn’t, yet it’s a concept some very well-educated people not only failed to truly grasp in recent years, but an excuse they choose to hide behind as they tried to slash their way out of trouble instead.
The new president, on the other hand, appears to be addressing this issue head on and his first order of business was to hire a new Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management, a sign that his reputation for building enrollment is not off the mark.
Another early decision the new president made was to immediately suspend the search for a full-time AD, presumably in order to conduct the process in a more professional manner and to have a more informed say on the final decision.
He also immediately relieved Robins of his duties, cutting ties with a department leader who was extremely unpopular among boosters.
In his first week in charge, it seems, the new president did more to mend bridges than the previous administration had managed in years.
Enrollment a priority
Jill Willson and Double L Consulting have taken over the day-to-day running of the athletic department and the AD hiring process, with a plan on having a full-time AD in place by January at the latest.
In a conference call with local media last month, Willson stressed that increasing enrollment is a priority for the new president, and that he will be looking into many ways that could help achieve that.
Presumably that will include potentially bringing football back, because there are few better ways to immediately increase enrollment than adding 120 student athletes and the girlfriends, family and friends they bring with them.
But Humboldt State football is about far more than just numbers, and it’s important for Dr. Jackson to understand that.
It’s about an identity for a school and for a community. It’s about providing opportunities for student athletes and the fans who support them. And it’s about making many minorities feel welcome here instead of alienating them, which in itself would open up enrollment further.
And contrary to public opinion, football is as popular as it has ever been on college campuses across the country.
According to data compiled by the National Football Foundation, this fall will see a record number of colleges and universities play the sport (775).
Willson insists she and the new president will be listening to the community and their concerns, admitting “there are relationships to be repaired for sure” in what is “a tough situation here.”
That makes it a perfect time for Jacks fans and boosters to let the new administration know just what football meant to this community before it was so cruelly swept away, and time to start believing in what could be again.
Across the nation this month, tens of thousands of college football players are preparing for the upcoming season, enthusiastically dreaming of a wealth of possibilities.
Humboldt State fans are just dreaming of having a team again.