With the COVID-19 pandemic idling Ferris State University’s football team from intercollegiate competition for more than 600 days, there was great anticipation heading into the first game of the 2021 season Thursday, Sept. 2. The Bulldogs hosted non-conference foe in the University of Findlay Oilers, from Ohio, in their return to the gridiron.
One of the football team’s alumni relaxed with Jackson County friends during tailgating time near the College of Business building. Ben (Benny) Roe starred as a running back on Ferris’ first four NCAA Division II playoff appearances in the 1990s. Roe said that he was glad to be back watching the team in action.
“I was at Top Taggart Field for a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) game a few years ago, with someone in my family on Northern Michigan’s team,” Roe said. “It is a different situation being one of the tailgaters, rather than heading to the stadium in pads and a helmet. I did enjoy seeing Ferris’ players pass by, as they were going in for warmups because it brought back many great memories.”
Roe graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and is now a part-time Jackson County sheriff’s deputy, having returned to the force after his recent retirement from the department. Roe said he has high hopes for Ferris’ team and was pleased to have used his connections to convince a transfer athlete that great things are going on for the Bulldogs.
“I talked to a young man named Nick Thomas, who was looking at Ferris, after starting his higher education with the Air Force Academy,” Roe said. “Nick was making a decision about where to take up Construction Management. I got in touch with Jeff Schmitz, a former Ferris teammate who is doing great things in commercial real estate development. Jeff was able to convince Nick to come here and join the team. I really expect he will be successful.”
A 1983 Ferris alumnus, John Milan, was closer to Top Taggart Field gathering with friends. The Big Rapids business owner is a sponsor of the football program. Milan said making this area his home after earning a Bachelor of Science in Insurance/Real Estate has meant decades of following the Bulldogs, so having no games to enjoy in 2020 found him very focused on this season’s first game.
“I am most interested to see how it goes against Findlay. They gave us such a good opener two years ago,” Milan said before the game. In the 2019 contest, Ferris was challenged until the final minutes by the Oilers, but the Bulldogs took a 24-23 victory. “I believe there will be an incredible amount of depth on the field. There seems to be a great deal of excitement among the fan base. We are hungry, man.”
Former Ferris players, alumni and all other fans were more than satisfied, as the nationally third-ranked Bulldogs posted a 54-14 win over Findlay, before 6,625 fans.
On the sideline was Haylah Thurmand, a sophomore student in Medical Laboratory Technology from Inkster, a member of the cheerleading squad. Thurmand said that as a transfer student, she knew that other veteran cheerleaders had much to consider when they prepared for this opening game.
“It was a relief that we could get back out there and do our performances again,” Thurmand said. “We were very excited.”
Perhaps most noticeable among the Bulldogs’ stars in the win was Jared Bernhardt, who earned the Terwaaraton Award in 2021, representative of being the top collegiate lacrosse player in the country. Jared left the University of Maryland as the career leader in goals and points scored. Bernhardt, as quarterback, ran for more than 100 yards and four touchdowns while throwing for more than 200 yards and three scores in the Bulldogs’ romp.
“The game was super exciting, very high-energy,” Thurmand said. “That kind of action helps us to do our best, cheering on the sidelines.”
Ferris continues the 2021 season Saturday, Sept. 11, in another non-conference game at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. The Bulldogs are back home on Saturday, Sept. 18 with their first GLIAC game against Saginaw Valley State University at 7 p.m.