Week 1 of the spring FCS season brought more than 600 yards of offense, a four-touchdown margin of victory, a historic national ranking and the offensive player of the week for Weber State football.
Now, time for a week off.
Because COVID-19 protocols disrupted Cal Poly’s preseason camp, the two teams agreed to postpone their March 6 game in San Luis Obispo, California, to the second buffer week of the Big Sky schedule on April 17. So that means, after just one game in the books, the No. 2 Wildcats (1-0) will not play this week.
It’s yet another adjustment necessitated by playing sports during a pandemic.
“There’s a lot of different things going on right now that we just manage, and the players have done a great job understanding that it’s a little different this year,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said.
One of those differences: academics. Football players are accustomed to pouring their entire beings into preseason camp, which usually transitions from camp to game week around the same time the fall semester starts. This season, players entered the semester that starts in January with pre-camp strength and conditioning, then began camp with the semester already three weeks old.
“It was weird going through camp while school was in full swing,” said senior linebacker and nursing student Conner Mortensen. “Other than that, it feels like the fall just because we’re playing games and we’re in season. I feel like I have to remind myself every week that were not in September and October, and that we’re in February and March. School is normal, we just take it in stride and roll with it.”
Hill complimented Ryan McGinn and the student-athlete academic services team for helping athletes on campus adjust to the changes, stay on top of registration and classwork, and otherwise keep moving forward.
For a team aiming to win at an elite level, “roll with it” is pretty much a requirement because studies aren’t the only difference.
Players test for COVID-19 three times per week, on top of regularly scheduled drug testing required by the NCAA. Pregame meals are packaged and take longer, as opposed to a usual buffet line that moves players through and gets them prepared for a game.
Hill said that for last week’s game in Idaho, the team did not stay overnight to limit the potential coronavirus exposure from a hotel stay with a large roster.
Late in preseason camp, more intense winter weather pushed the team to an off-campus, indoor facility that could accommodate the size of a football team and still meet local health policies for indoor gatherings.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t think we give it a second thought,” Mortensen said. “Wherever we’ve got to go practice, we’ll go, whatever adjustment we’ve got to make. I feel like that’s just the culture here, things happen and we’ve got to adapt. If we’ve got to practice somewhere besides here then we make it happen, and the team just makes it work.”
In a normal season, bye weeks usually involve plenty of rest and healing from the rigors of a physical, grinding, 12- or 13-week season. But now, Hill says Weber State will take advantage of the timing, let players get caught up on school work, and get better.
After all, Bronson Barron — despite winning offensive conference player of the week by throwing 17 of 27 for 312 yards and four touchdowns — is a true freshman at quarterback, for one example.
The Wildcats aren’t just eyeing improvement through practice, but also through continued additions on the field.
“We’ve got three or four starters who are right on the brink of being back — Maxwell Anderson and Devon Cooley and Ja’Kobe Harris,” Hill said of three players who all started or played big, rotational roles in 2019. He also said the week off might hopefully give them time to get UNLV transfer receiver Randal Grimes eligible.
“So we’re getting excited about that,” Hill said. “Our team’s got a chance to continue to get better.”