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'Dark day' in Michigan football leaves players with tough calls over NFL careers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

They had started fall camp, preparing to kick off a just-announced 10-game season, when suddenly, the upperclassmen on the Michigan football team had to rethink their next steps.

Less than a week after Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren released the schedule, the football season was canceled amid lingering concerns about the health and safety of the players because of COVID-19.

“It was a real dark day in terms of everybody finding out that there wasn't going to be a season, because we had high hopes,” Michigan tight end Nick Eubanks told reporters Wednesday during a video conference.

Nick Eubanks

Now, players like Eubanks, defensive tackle Carlo Kemp, defensive end Kwity Paye and receiver Nico Collins, among others, must weigh their options. Should they hang on for a spring season that the Big Ten reportedly is planning? Should they leave now and begin training for the NFL Draft? They’ve already seen one teammate, right tackle Jalen Mayfield, declare this week for the draft.

“I think about that a lot, especially now because of the season being postponed,” Eubanks said. “But right now I'm just going to just stick around for a couple of months and then see where it goes from there in terms of me making the decision. Whether it is a spring season or not, I think I'll make my decision by then and see where I go from there.”

Kemp, a captain last season, is finally healthy after playing late in the season on injured ankles that forced him to sit out the bowl game. This was an important fall, as it was to many of the players in their final year of eligibility, as well as defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, a junior.

More: 'Held hostage by Big Ten': Michigan parents want answers as sons' futures hang in balance

Plans for a spring season are evolving, and that what Kemp is banking on.

“For me, it’s spring,” Kemp said Wednesday. “My mind is set and focused in on what’s next, and that’s spring for me. I’m focused on spring and, hopefully, being able to get that opportunity with Kwity, with Aidan, and a bunch of the guys that we still have on this team.”

The issue for the spring for players who are pursuing an NFL future is the timing. There’s the NFL combine, not to mention training for the next level. And without a season this fall, scouts will have to rely the 2019 film for Michigan players without having anything new. Meanwhile, three conferences, including the SEC, are still forging ahead with their seasons.

“That’s definitely something that you think about because obviously every player wants fresh film,” Kemp said. “Every player wants new film. Right now, we don’t have that shot and it looks like other conferences will. It’s just, ‘What are you going to do in the meantime?’”

More: Big Ten's goal: January start for football, with hopes for full fall 2021 schedule

What they’re doing is going through voluntary workouts while trying to maintain some sense of normalcy.

Eubanks said they players who have much to think about and consider will rely on each other.

“They're probably thinking the same thing,” Eubanks said. “I think personally, once one or two guys fall into one plan, I think the others will follow. Because that's how tight we've been the last couple of years and last couple of months.

“And I honestly don't know what those guys are going to do. But I know one thing, that once we come down to one decision, and those guys made their decision, I think the rest will follow.”