Drew Tingstad and his Humboldt State University football teammates received an email last July that confirmed what they had feared but still weren’t expecting.
The school announced the football program would be cut following the 2018 season, leaving more than 50 underclassmen without a place to play the following year.
Players’ scholarships would be honored through the end of the school year, but those who wanted to continue their football careers would have to find a new school.
Tingstad, a standout quarterback at Meadowdale High School who graduated in 2017, said many players had to decide whether continuing to play football was the right option for their futures.
“It was tough because some guys were (going to be) juniors and seniors and only had one or two years of eligibility left,” Tingstad said. “It just didn’t make sense for them to leave and abandon their degree or future career obligations that they had set up already.”
It wasn’t the first time the players had heard the program might be dropped.
Tingstad said that while he was being recruited to play for the LumberJacks prior to the 2017 season there were rumors the football program might get axed, but he was assured during the recruiting process that it wasn’t likely to happen.
“That’s why a lot of the guys that were in my class ended up going there,” he said.
A month after the 2017 season ended, then-Humboldt State University President Lisa Rossbacher announced the school would field a team in 2018 after the community and athletics boosters raised $516,000 to help fund the program.
It was agreed that the program would continue if the community and boosters could raise $500,000 each year for the next five years, according to a report on the Humboldt State University website. The deadline to ensure the 2019 season would be played was Jan. 31, 2018.
That gave Tingstad and his teammates some reassurance.
Unfortunately for the players, that $500,000 mark was not met. The deadline for donations was extended thorough June but just $329,000 was raised.
In July, the announcement came that Humboldt State — located in Arcata, California — would be playing its final season.
“Our football team has been an important source of pride for our students, staff and alumni, as well as our regional community,” Rossbacher said in a press release. “Sadly, and despite a tremendous fund drive effort, we found that football cannot be sustained through student fees and community giving.”
Tingstad, a redshirt freshman in 2018, wasn’t about to give up on playing football. With three years of eligibility remaining, the 6-foot-3 quarterback set out to make the best of his last year as a LumberJack and hopefully build a film resume for other college coaches to see.
All players were to be granted full releases after the season, excusing them from the usual one-year period in which transfer students must wait before participating in games.
Along with the looming end of the program, the players had to deal with the turmoil surrounding the head-coaching position.
Coach Rob Smith resigned in January of 2018 after 10 years leading the program. In a written statement, Smith — who was the head coach at Western Washington University when the Vikings dropped their football program in 2009 — said he was “not comfortable with the direction of things at HSU” and that the work environment was “not conducive to quality athletic programs and achievement.”
Offensive-line coach Cory White was named interim head coach Jan. 29. He resigned two weeks later and defensive backs coach Damaro Wheeler took over.
Despite all the commotion, Tingstad said the coaching staff rose to the occasion.
“They did a good job kind of helping us throughout the year,” he said. “During the season at least, they were focused on, ‘Hey, we’re going to play football.’ Because the program was kind of still up in the air. We thought that maybe if we play well enough and make some money or make some noise across the country, who knows what could happen?”
The coaches also helped the players after the season, reaching out to other programs and holding a combine for LumberJacks players to showcase their talents.
After sitting out the LumberJacks’ first game of the 2018 season, Tingstad came in during Game 2. He shared time at quarterback with junior Joey Sweeney for the majority of the rest of the season.
For the season, Tingstad completed 41 of 77 passes for 542 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He added three scores and 121 yards on the ground. He also hauled in a 20-yard TD reception while playing against his brother, Caleb, and Western Oregon.
Tingstad’s season ended in Humboldt State’s second-to-last game when he suffered a shoulder injury against Azusa Pacific. It was the final home game for the program. The Lumberjacks lost 20-17 in overtime.
A week later, the players sent off the program with a win over Simon Fraser, the second victory in a 2-8 campaign.
“Once the season was over, it was actually kind of jubilation,” Tingstad said. “The fact that we we’re done with administration at least — we were all just frustrated with them for so long — we were able to just kind of relax a little bit once the season was done.
“It was really kind of just like, ‘Hey, congrats guys. We made it through. We trudged through all this garbage and became better because of it.’”
And Tingstad was grateful he got the opportunity to put his talents on display during games throughout the season, which wasn’t the case for players with smaller roles on the team.
“Being able to go out there and put together film and show people what you can do against high-level competition definitely sets you up in places to be able to go and play elsewhere,” he said.
Tingstad transferred to Western Oregon, enrolling for the winter term.
He said he was lucky compared to some of his teammates because of the ties he already had with Western Oregon. He had been recruited by the Wolves out of high school just two years earlier and had a connection with his brother being a senior on the team last season.
Tingstad had other options to consider but he wanted to get to a new school as soon as possible to start building relationships with his teammates and coaches.
For Tingstad, it’s a fresh start after dealing with “a really messed-up situation” over the past two years.
And although he won’t get the opportunity to play with his brother at Western Oregon, Tingstad will be joined by some of his closest teammates from Humboldt State — wide receiver Kaleo Garrigan and offensive lineman Avery Bilensky — who also decided to continue their playing careers in Monmouth, Oregon.
“At the end of the day, we kind of developed a cool family bond as a program because we went through so much stuff together,” Tingstad said. “We really just wanted to go out and play with one another regardless of the result.”