Florida Atlantic University’s football team reworked how they conduct practices and meetings to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Since returning to the field, the reigning Conference USA and Cheribundi Boca Bowl champions have dealt with new protocols, frequent testing, and players who have tested positive.
On March 13, Brian White, the Vice President and Director of Athletics, cancelled spring practices for all sports including spring camp for football. Football players and staff did not return to campus until June 8 for voluntary workouts.
“Once the team was able to return to campus for voluntary workouts, we kept them in small groups. We did lots of disinfecting, lots of cleaning, and lots of education on best practices,” said Andy Seeley, the Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Relations. “Once fall camp started, we did lots of testing and continued every effort to mitigate any spread,” said Seeley.
The efforts have included limiting weight lifting groups, putting spacers on the field, and requiring face coverings at all times.
“The biggest change that I’ve had to get used to is lifting. We used to lift as larger groups so it would probably be the whole offense and then the whole defense working out. That’s all changed. Now it’s max 15 people to a group,” said John Mitchell, a redshirt senior.
Lifting in smaller groups means that more time is taken out of the day to get all athletes in the weight room. Since there are over 100 players and they have to sanitize equipment in between, it takes longer to get workouts completed.
In addition to the changes in practice, Mitchell said that to properly social distance, the team holds meetings in the basketball arena or virtually via Zoom or FaceTime.
“Covid has made the logistics of practice and meetings harder than they would have been, but it is what it is, you can’t really do anything about it,” said Mitchell.
Another change has been the amount of testing the team goes through.
Ahman Ross, a redshirt junior, said that during summer workouts and the first few weeks of fall camp, players were tested twice a week. However, since the regular season begins on Sept. 19th and the team will begin to travel, they will be tested three times a week.
“That test is uncomfortable but it’s necessary,” said Mitchell.
During a Sept. 16 press conference, head coach Willie Taggart announced that 11 players tested positive. This is the most the team has had since resuming practice.
“It’s worrisome to know that people you’ve been around have tested positive. The best way that they [FAU] have tried to work through that is to try to test us often. This is the type of thing that you don’t want to bring back to your family and you don’t want to have to worry if you have it or not. It’s the risk that we assume and it’s a work in progress. This is uncharted territory for all of us,” said Mitchell.
Larry Faerman, the director of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, explained that when an athlete tests positive for the coronavirus they go through the same procedure that all students go through. They are placed in isolation until 10 days have passed since they first had symptoms, they have completed 24 hours without taking a fever-reducing medication, and once all of their other symptoms have improved. FAU also requires students who are considered “close contacts” of individuals who have tested positive, to quarantine for 14 days.
Despite the active cases, both Ross and Mitchell feel safe going to practice and competing this year.
“The coaches are reinforcing all of the guidelines and I feel like the university is doing their part to keep us safe,” said Ross.
Mitchell echoed Ross’ thoughts by saying, “I just listen to the people who do the research and they say that we can play safely. I put my trust in them.”
FAU announced on Sept.10 that they would allow 20% capacity at all home games but will prohibit pre-game tailgating.
“We got to that number by working with our leadership here on campus to figure out a way that we could manage having people come to the game but stay physically distanced. It was a collaborative effort between athletics, campus leadership, and the health and safety officials,” said Seeley.
Although COVID-19 has transformed the way FAU athletes prepare for the season, both Ross and Mitchell are ready to play.
“I’m hoping that I can see a lot of us show some really good character, some toughness, and come out and have a good season this year. There’s a lot going on with both the coronavirus and the social injustice issues, and you can see that it can weigh on a lot of people. I’m hoping that we can dig deep and stay strong through adversity,” said Mitchell.
The owls originally planned to take the field on Saturday Sept. 19 against Georgia Southern, but due to rise in COVID-19 cases, it was postponed. Be sure to tune in next Saturday for the home opener against USF.
“I’m looking forward to getting back to playing games and experiencing that game day environment. I also hope everyone can safely return back to the game day atmosphere,” said Ross.