OGDEN — With coronavirus cases surging nationally, the NCAA released a testing plan Thursday to lay out how to resume games — “if we can achieve an environment where COVID-19 rates are manageable,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said.
The Ivy League and the Patriot League have canceled fall sports altogether. Other conferences, including the WAC and WCC in the West, have pushed back the start of fall seasons, and the Pac-12 and Big Ten have announced they will only play conference games for fall sports. Every day brings more uncertainty to the start of the 2020-21 college sports season.
The Big Sky Conference is in a holding pattern and, for now, Weber State’s 2020 football schedule remains intact.
So Weber State opened workouts this week in the first of two lead-up periods ahead of fall camp, special sessions approved by the NCAA after the pandemic canceled much of spring camp in March.
“Everyone’s practicing and working hard as if we are going to play,” sophomore running back Kris Jackson said Thursday. “Everyone’s still attacking each day like normal, just like we would come out and practice any other time. We’re just preparing for the season to happen.”
Facilities at WSU have been open for about a month, allowing athletes on campus to work out on a voluntary basis. But for football, from July 13-23, teams can put in up to eight required hours per week, consisting of conditioning, weight training and film study.
“Throughout this whole time, the key is to stay positive. If you have a bad mindset, things aren’t going to go the way you want them to go if we do have a season,” senior receiver Rashid Shaheed said. “So you stay positive and come out like there is going to be a season, just work toward our goals and keep fighting as this goes along.”
Thursday morning, groups of about 15 players, staggered each hour, ran more than a dozen reps up the hill next to the east grandstand at Stewart Stadium. Coaches split between the top and bottom of the hill handed out equal amounts of encouragement, praise and motivation.
Most players were surprisingly spry, relatively speaking, even as they pushed through the final reps up the hill. Most went home for much of the shutdown time between March and June but tried to stay on top of conditioning as much as possible. Both Shaheed and Jackson said the team mostly took care of business during the break.
“Even (strength coach Derek Rosinski) said himself, we’re in a lot better shape than he thought we’d be,” Jackson said. “We’re answering real well to that, but we’re still not where we need to be exactly.”
Shaheed said receivers and quarterbacks have had good chemistry in voluntary pitch-and-catch sessions, and everyone came back ready to go. He and other seniors are trying to keep the team focused by informing their workouts with the belief that they’re going to play games this fall.
The next session of pre-fall camp workouts starts July 24 and goes to Aug. 6. It increases the allowable required hours to 20 per week, no more than four per day, and allows coaches to start using a football to walk through schemes. Fall camp is scheduled to open Aug. 7.
“We’re glad to be back,” Jackson said. “I missed these dudes, missed the coaches, so being back out here and playing football again is the best thing ever.”