The fathers of Campbell and running back Jake Funk played football at Penn State, but their sons never received scholarship offers from the school. After the win, Campbell and Funk diverged from the path toward the locker room and headed to the railing that separated the sideline from the modest crowd of family members, the only spectators allowed this season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
From a distance, Campbell’s father, Rick, said he told the two players: “Look around. You will never forget this day. Remember what it meant. And don’t get rid of that chip on your shoulder.”
If those Maryland veterans looked around Beaver Stadium that evening, they saw a scoreboard that verified their win, a string of joyful players and coaches leaving the field ... and thousands upon thousands of empty seats. That scene has become common around the Big Ten and across the country as coronavirus cases spike and restrictions on public gatherings tighten.
Big Ten schools aren’t selling tickets this year, but they can allow a limited number of family members to attend games. Maryland parents said they have enjoyed being there for those moments, which still hold value despite the odd circumstances, but their opportunities will be limited in the final weeks of this shortened season.
The Terps play Saturday at No. 12 Indiana, where close relatives will be able to scatter throughout the stands, but they will no longer be able to do so at home games following an order from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) that limits the occupancy of outdoor sporting venues to 250.
“It did hurt us because we were looking forward to it,” said Nikki Blount Jackson, the mother of redshirt freshman tight end Kameron Blount. She hasn’t attended a game this year, and her other son, Konner, had hoped to go with her to the next home game. “They’re extremely close, so he was getting excited about that. It really was a damper to us,” she said. “They have to try to protect us all, but it was a gut punch.”
Parents were permitted at the Terps’ first three games, but they haven’t played since Nov. 7 because of an outbreak in the program. A spike in cases among players and staff members prompted the cancellation of home games against Ohio State and Michigan State, so the Terps (2-1) only have one matchup in College Park left on the schedule — Dec. 12 vs. Rutgers — although the conference hasn’t announced where its championship weekend matchups will be played.
Campbell’s parents have attended nearly every game of their son’s Maryland career, and it “would have been a torment,” his dad said, if they hadn’t witnessed that Penn State win from inside Beaver Stadium. But they have adjusted and have plans for at-home viewing: They will gather as a family in the basement and await a phone call from their son afterward.
Everyone in the program knew playing during a pandemic would mean stark changes. Players have tried to avoid trips home and hugs after games. Since they returned to campus this summer, practice has been halted three times because of cases in the athletic department. The start of the season brought long-awaited relief, but no matchup is guaranteed — as the Terps learned this month. Whether a stadium is nearly empty or completely empty depends on local guidelines, which can also change any day.
Parents weren’t sure entering the season how and if they would be able to attend games. Sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones’s mom, Nicole Baran, searched for flights in advance of the season opener, her son’s first game back after tearing an ACL last year, but she didn’t receive confirmation that parents would be allowed until the week before, and airfare had increased by then. She still managed to make the trip to Northwestern for the season-opening loss.
Maryland permitted four family members of each player to attend its lone home game, a win over Minnesota, before the canceled matchups and reversal in policy that will keep them from attending any more.
Stephanie Foust, the mother of freshman quarterback David Foust, had never experienced a game day with such an easy commute as she did on her way to the Minnesota game. She had a great seat and enjoyed the game, but there are many others — former coaches, family friends and “the people that you call aunts that aren’t really aunts,” she said — who would have wanted to be there under normal circumstances. Even though her son didn’t play, she appreciated that she got to experience the moment when he ran onto the field at Maryland Stadium for the first time.
“None of us knew coming into the season whether there would be a season. None of us knew whether we would be allowed to go,” Stephanie Foust said. “So certainly it was an anticipated event that I looked forward to, and I would have hated, especially with him being a freshman, to not at least get to see that.”
Junior kicker Joseph Petrino’s father, John, sat alone in the stands and watched his son make a career-best 51-yard field goal against the Golden Gophers. Funk’s family attended that game, too, and he had a career-best outing, rushing for 221 yards, more than the fifth-year senior had recorded in an entire season. Dozens of other parents dotted the stands that night.
After the overtime win, Rick Campbell told his wife, Kati, that they should walk to the football facility, where parents typically greet their sons either in celebration or with words of comfort. Kati reminded him that parents had been instructed not to congregate afterward. Once they had driven 20 minutes out of College Park, Campbell called his parents, asking where they were.
“And I knew he was okay,” Rick Campbell said. “But you could hear it in his voice. … It matters a lot.”
Coronavirus cases in Maryland have risen to a record high in recent weeks, averaging more than 2,000 new cases per day, so Blount’s mother had suspected the school might be forced to change its attendance policy. She had hoped to travel to Indiana, but she didn’t feel confident Maryland would play after back-to-back cancellations. And when the Terps returned to practice Monday, she didn’t have enough time to sort out travel logistics.
Blount Jackson purchased the athletic department’s cutouts for the entire family, so their photos are on display at Maryland Stadium, even though she won’t watch from those seats this season. The family will follow the games at home in Waldorf with plenty of snacks: wings, crab dip and her signature macaroni and cheese. They will “sit around watching the game, screaming, yelling, tweeting and acting a fool,” Blount Jackson said, while the players perform in a home stadium with nobody there.
“It’s the weirdest thing not to be able to be there,” she said. “My little cutout is there, but my heart’s cut out.”