Though their methods and procedures are quite different, and there is still much uncertainty surrounding the future of college football and sports in general, Will Muschamp and his football team are working diligently on the 2020 season and planning to play football come fall.
“As a staff and as a team, we have to plan as if we are playing this fall and until someone tells us otherwise, that’s our plan,” Muschamp said Monday. “There are a lot more questions than answers, and no one has those answers right now. [But] until someone tells me differently, we are playing in the fall.”
The Gamecocks had held five spring practices when all athletic activity was halted by the spread of the coronavirus and student-athletes were sent home indefinitely. South Carolina students are taking classes online but are prohibited from being on campus except in special cases.
Muschamp said he has eight to 10 players on campus who are rehabbing injuries. One player, who was out of the country when the nation began to react to the spread of the virus, was tested for COVID-19 but tested negative, he said.
Though coaches are also not on campus and can have no physical contact with their players, Muschamp and his staff meet via video conferencing twice a day and continue to game-plan, recruit and put plans in place for the 2020 season.
The staff is meeting with players daily through video chats and is using the Learn To Win app to install offensive and defensive schemes and systems and study film. Muschamp said the staff is able to use the virtual tools to quiz players on gameplans and schemes.
“It has been really beneficial. That has been a good part of the learning process,” he said.
New assistant coach Connor Shaw is also meeting with the team once a week to discuss mental health issues while dealing with the pandemic, while noted sports psychologist Dr. Kevin Elko talks with coaches about leadership and dealing with adversity during the crisis. Muschamp said it’s critical that his players stay connected during a difficult time.
“I think it’s critical and Connor has done a really good job of keeping our team connected,” he said. “The number one thing is a daily routine. We are meeting with our players daily. Our academic people are meeting with players daily and I’m trying to come up with other ideas where we can stay connected. Connor is doing a really good job and Dr. Elko at keeping guys connected during this time as best we can to keep our spirits up, stay positive and stay safe.”
New strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson is also talking with players frequently, giving them workout routines and ideas depending on whether they have access to weights and training equipment or not. Per SEC rules, coaches cannot monitor players off-campus conditioning, but they are doing their best to make sure they are staying in shape.
“We are talking to our guys every day and making sure they are working out the best they can, whether they have access to weights and a workout situation or they don’t,” he said. “They can do some body weight at home. Some are doing the best they can with what they’ve got and that’s all we can ask right now.”
Muschamp and his staff are also staying in contact with the 12 2020 signees who have not yet enrolled in school and had not yet arrived on campus. Ten players from the 2020 were early enrollees who participated in spring practice.
“They have all qualified academically and we have been in contact with those guys to make sure they are still staying positive and finishing out academically their senior year of high school,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp said being able to hold five spring practices was a big boost for his team, especially the early enrollees. Most SEC schools had not yet started spring practice when all athletic activities were halted.
“We were fortunate that we were able to get that in before the situation occurred. That was a huge benefit for them,” he said. “Now we are in a video-conference Zoom situation and they have an idea of what we are going through and what we are talking about.
“Obviously, would we like to be on campus and practicing and working out and having them in the meeting rooms? Absolutely. But that’s not where we are right now so we have to adapt and adjust a little bit how we are teaching and how we go through those things. The players are a lot better at this than I am. They are able to get on the phone with this Zoom thing and do a really good job; it takes me a while to get it all cranked up.”
As for when practice will resume and the season may start, Muschamp has no idea. But he plans to have his team ready.
“We are planning on playing this fall and we’re planning on having 80,000 people at Williams-Brice. That’s the way I am looking at it,” he said.