It’s good to be back. That is pretty the sentiment of every college football coach who doubted for any period of time whether they would have a season this year.
So, you will excuse UCLA’s Chip Kelly if he is not expressing dismay over not having a training camp. He has had to move the Bruins straight into practice mode. But they are happy to be there.
Chip Kelly Has Guarded Optimism
“It’s not a real training camp because we are in school. We are limited to 20 hours per week because we are in class now. It’s like what our in-season schedule is. We have training in the morning and then we have meetings at night after their academic things. The players come back between 5 and 6 (pm), for half-hour meetings, so it looks like our in-season schedule.”
As is the case with every program across the country, UCLA is getting by in a constantly evolving situation. “There’s a lot bigger issues than just athletics, and we’re certainly cognizant of it,” Kelly said Friday. “Our county, in particular, has been harder than a lot of other places.”
Kelly credited the school’s “Return to Training” group, led by new athletic director Martin Jarmond and senior associate athletic director Matt Elliot with advocating on the program’s behalf both in the state and LA County venues. “I don’t think there has been any step along the way where we have not been informed about what is going on. I think Martin and Matt, and that whole group have done a great job of keeping us informed and fighting for what we feel we should be able to do based upon what the climate is here in Westwood.”
The Bruins have now had a few days in full pads as they get ready for a season opener that quickly comes up in just three weeks at Colorado.
That certainly leads to a feeling like “normal times,” even if everyone is fully aware they are not. Kelly said just having everyone back in place has been a mood changer. “Everyone is doing great because we are back in touch with each other. The real unique part of this pandemic was that we were not allowed to see each other. For coaches, I think we left on Friday the 13th of March and we weren’t allowed back in the building until sometime in mid-September. There was a bunch of Zoom meetings, but you miss that daily interaction with each other.”
Currently, defensive lineman Steven Mason is in quarantine, although he tested negative. The isolation is part of the protocols that come from him being exposed to a student (non-athlete), who had the virus. As of a few weeks ago, UCLA releases the positive test results of their athletes, not by individual, but by sport. Previously, the school had released only overall results as a “community” number. This last week they performed 1,293 COVID-19 PCR tests for the athletes and had zero positive tests. They have had a grand total of 16 positive tests (out of 3,542 performed since the last week of June). Nine were believed to be football players back in June, but there has not been a known case on the football team since then.
Players Watching Players
Kelly gives a lot of the credit for the successful testing results to the players themselves. “Our players have done a really good job in protecting their ecosystem because if they want to play on November 7th, then we have to make sure we keep COVID out of, not only them individually, but out of the team collectively. This disease is real, and you can’t let your guard down.” He said the players are monitoring each other to make sure they are not putting themselves in situations where they could be jeopardizing themselves or others. Kelly compared it to a self-created small bubble of protection.
The UCLA coaches have also been preaching to the players not to take it for granted. Kelly cited examples of how a program thinks it is doing fine. Then they report to practice one day and find out there has been an outbreak on campus or within the program.
Day To Day
Navigating the new order of collegiate athletics in the word of COVID clearly is different from program to program. “I am impressed with how they are training and how they are approaching this because it is a unique situation. This isn’t something that any of us, whether it is coaches or players have been through. We’re not even day to day. We’re hour to hour, and they have been great from that mindset standpoint.”
It’s early in the practice schedule leading up to the season opener, but the clock is also ticking. Such is the 2020 college football season.