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Future of Jacks ball in doubt

November 1 deadline is the date to save for HSU Football.

Isaiah Hall, right, gets to the edge of the field and turns toward the end zone for the Humboldt State University offense while defeating Simon Fraser 72-14 on Saturday, Sept. 16. | Photo by Diego Linares

It’s Saturday night at the Redwood Bowl. The fog and mist comes over the trees, suddenly 7,000 screaming fans echo off the trees like owls in the night. Daunting to any opposing team, especially when the chainsaws roar as Humboldt State scores.

In the midst of a historic season, this could all be gone as of Nov. 1, when Humboldt State administration will decide on the fate of HSU Football as they continue to handle the school’s intercollegiate athletics program and its financial deficit.

“We’re not just looking for pledges for the first year, we also hope to get pledges for the next five years,” said Athletic Director Duncan Robbins. “We don’t want to just save football for a year, we want to plan for the future as well.”

Robbins and the Office of Advancement are working together with alumni and community volunteers to raise the needed initial funds and future pledges by the November deadline. The suggested number being around $500,000 before the deadline.

“We know what we need to raise to remove the red ink from our budget,” said Robbins, “so we have a definitive target from what we need from HSU’s campus and community members on saving the program.”

The goal is to save the program with options of cutting or putting the team on a two year hiatus.

As a program that has gained national recognition from the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, there’s a noticeable crazed fan base in this community. With that comes the emotion and outrage of potentially not having a football team at Humboldt State. Former players like Taylor Mitchell want President Rossbacher to know they won’t let the program go silently.

“The program means everything to me, the opportunity to play out my dream of playing college football,” said Mitchell. “It’s the heart of the community.”

There’s a sentiment from a few players on this year’s current team that Rossbacher and Robbins aren’t doing everything in their power to keep football at HSU.

“Lisa Rossbacher and Duncan Robbins, if they wanted to fix it, they could,” said senior lineman Jarred Layel. “They’re trying to kill the program.”

Head Coach Rob Smith’s not just coaching a group of football players, but a group of young men that are growing and developing everyday as Jacks, something that goes beyond the field.

“Frustrated, disappointed, a touch of anger at the work these kids are putting in on a daily basis,” said Smith.

Coach Smith believes there’s value in college sports, the value it brings to the community, to the students on campus. If it wasn’t for the school’s athletics program. Getting the community of Humboldt County onto the campus would be difficult.

“There’s value to community, our players and our student body,” said Smith. “There’s entertainment value.”

You go to the games, you see kids asking for players autographs. That’s when you know the impact has been made. This football program doesn’t belong the current AD, president or coach. It belongs to Humboldt County. It was here before them and the hope is it will be here when they are gone.

“What other program on campus brings in 7,000 people from the community on to this campus,” said Smith. “This community appreciated us.”

Going from playing and hosting a Division II playoff game in 2015 (the first time since 1968) to getting its program cut sounds like a cruel and unusual punishment. It’s a realization that all the success in the world can’t save the team from what looks like insurmountable debt.

“The deficit isn’t of our doing,” said Smith. “It has to do with enrollment and what I believe is a flawed funding in the way athletics is funded at HSU.”

There’s an understanding between athletic director Robbins, President Rossbacher and Head Coach Rob Smith that preserving what historically has been a rich tradition at HSU is a good thing for the community. HSU has lead the conference in attendance since coach Smith has been here.

Players will also have the option of transferring to another school without facing an eligibility penalty because HSU dropped the program.

“Our goal if the worse thing happens would be to place the players and coaches in the best situations possible.” said Robbins.

Robbins and Smith both have reiterated that the coaching staff and athletic department would work to help players find new schools if they want to keep playing.

“I think with a segment of the community that would be a huge loss,” said Robbins. “That’s why there’s so much passion to save the program.”

The community’ support for the team, alumni and boosters have a tall task in front of them to keep football in Humboldt.

“We’re have a specific plan for fundraising, we’re out making phone calls and kissing babies,” said Robbins.

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