The Virginia Football team returned to Grounds on July 5th to start voluntary workouts. Head coach Bronco Mendenhall took time Monday (July 13) to chat with the media about the return to Charlottesville, the protocols in place to keep players safe, and the possibility of a full or shortened season in the fall.
Mendenhall called their plan “intentional and conservative,” saying, “We worked with the end in mind, we work through from required activities, which is coming up this upcoming Wednesday. We really tried to bump up our return as close to required activities as possible. Knowing that and trusting that our players would behave responsibly, maturely, would train appropriately, and be with their families at a time that they normally don’t have.”
They have had two voluntary workouts so far — Friday and Saturday — and says the team is happy to be back and are dedicated to working hard before the season starts. Mendenhall didn’t have any updates on where the team is physically as he isn’t allowed to be involved or receive updates during the voluntary workout time.
Not knowing whether or not they’ll play a full season — let alone play a season at all — has been difficult, but Mendenhall is approaching it in a fascinating way. “We still have to anticipate and prepare as if we’re opening on time, and so it might be like a Special Forces unit or a unit that’s training and preparing and ready to get a green light to be called on the mission,” Mendenhall explained. “But you’re never sure if the green light is actually going to go on. It might stay red, but you have to be ready as if it’s going to go off at any time.”
The Hoos plan on preparing as if things will start on time, despite the uncertainty. “The best thing I can do them is act as if we’re going to play and play in our opener, have a plan for that, and anything else that happens after that we’ll adjust and mostly that’ll be adjusting down not up,” he explained. “It’s always easier to ramp down then ramp up, so we’re going to prepare as if we’re opening with Georgia, and we’ll prepare as if the season will happen.”
That training looks very different than what the coaches, players, and staff are used to as they implement strict protocols. Those protocols include:
- All players in a series of dorms that are together, with one exit and one entry in and out
- Dorm checkpoint for after hours
- Staying with teammates they’ll live with during the semester to prevent unnecessary crossover
- Masks and social distancing
- No visitors in rooms (friends, family, or teammates)
- Outdoor common spaces with chairs/benches set up for social distancing
- No more than four players per car for travel to McCue (following guidelines not to be within six feet of someone else for longer than 15 mins)
- Questionnaire and temperature taken upon arrival at McCue
- Color coded wristbands handed out for each day to ensure check-ins are up to date
- No access to the locker room (arrive dressed)
- Laundry/equipment picked up and cleaned
- Weight room sprayed down and cleaned between workouts
Mendenhall praised the support staff, and emphasized that players are required to follow strict masking and social distancing protocols at each step of the process.
Players that test positive — two reported so far — are quarantined, as are those that are determined to have been in close proximity through contact tracing. Anyone that feels sick is quarantined, even if they have not yet tested positive. All quarantined players are kept separate.
“I just tried to explain the protocols that’s helping us do that to this point. Now, when you consider another team doing that, and then arriving to a place and both things doing that, then trying to play and go back to regular protocols, even at home, and then keep that up for possibly 14 weeks based on how successful you are. Oh, and by the way, here comes the rest of the students who certainly aren’t going to follow the same protocols as the higher standard expected by the athletes and these unique cultures to perform,” Mendenhall said on whether he thought football would be possible this fall. “That’s going to be one other challenging component. So possible, yes, challenging would be an understatement.”
When asked about modified schedules, Mendenhall was open to the possibility of a conference-only or round robin schedule. He did, however, prefer to only play a team once. “Yeah, I prefer not to play each team twice,” he explained, continuing, “but this isn’t really a time where we get a lot of just normal choices. So if regional and twice are regional pods, and I’m familiar with this, this proposal, if regional pods keeps the team, the closest, the safest and and gives us the best chance to play football, and for them to be together and reach their goals, then I would be for that. This is a time for innovation and unique solutions to do the very best we can under the circumstances.”
Above all, Mendenhall clearly wants to play football, but only if it’s safe for his players and staff.
“For these players, the best advice is we’re acting as if everyone we come in contact with has the virus,” Mendenhall stated. “That keeps us aware and alert and socially distanced and having our masks on.” Mendenhall also shared a quote that he heard from Athletic Director Carla Williams, saying, “‘The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance,’ so we’re educating and we’re educating, we’re educating and we’re educating. We’re using numbers and we’re using news articles. We’re using everything that we see, to make sure we all know we’re at risk.”
The team has two more voluntary practices before they get started with full activities.