Groundwork for the 2020 college football season has been laid. After approval from the Division I Council earlier this week, there is now a tangible plan for teams to abide […]
Groundwork for the 2020 college football season has been laid. After approval from the Division I Council earlier this week, there is now a tangible plan for teams to abide by. That means coaches, fans and anyone else who follows college football can begin marking dates on the calendar and looking forward to some important milestones for the return of action on the gridiron.
At East Carolina University, players have begun filtering back in for voluntary workouts that started last week. According to ECU’s defensive coordinator Blake Harrell in his interview with Patrick Johnson on 94.3 The Game on Thursday, about half of the Pirates’ roster is back participating in workouts, with the other half expected by Monday.
“As a staff, we came back in early June and then we had some players kind of trickle in over the last couple weeks,” Harrell said. “All those guys have been tested and came up negative so that’s been really positive news. It’s mostly guys that are off campus, and most of the guys that (live) on campus will move in Monday evening and they’ll go through their COVID test next week as well.”
While some schools have been forced to curtail or shut down workouts completely due to spikes in coronavirus cases in their respective states or on campus, ECU has yet to return a positive test, paving the way for the football program to move closer toward full workouts.
If everything continues on the current path for ECU, coaches could begin having contact with student-athletes on July 6. Right now, only strength and conditioning and training personnel are allowed to be present during voluntary workouts. Under the plan approved by the D1 Council, however, ECU and all other schools that play on Week 0 will be allowed eight hours of countable athletically related activities in a little over two weeks.
Even with the national pandemic wiping out spring practice and the annual spring game, Harrell said he feels like coaches and players are ahead of where they would normally be from a preparation standpoint.
“The quarantine, you always try to take the positive out of everything,” Harrell said. “A lot of what we would be scrambling around sometimes in July to get done and get ready for August camp, we’ve already knocked out and been on top of. Now, we’re just making some final preparations for when we get to have contact with the kids on July 6.”
On that date, coaches can begin conducting formal team workouts and film review. A week and a half later, the eight countable hours gets bumped up to 20 hours and teams can begin holding walkthroughs and team meetings.
For ECU, that period would begin on July 16 and run through roughly July 29. At that point, the Pirates would begin their normal fall practice schedule in preparation for an Aug. 29 kick-off with Marshall in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
Earlier in the year, head coach Mike Houston said his team was in a great place physically and culture-wise before the coronavirus shut things down over spring break in March. Harrell echoed that sentiment for his defense and said the energy from his players was second to none before his players departed campus.
“We had a lot of energy with our players,” Harrell said. “That was something — we could keep going through our Zoom meetings, the kids did a really good job with it. You had your ups and downs, but I think it’s just more of what’s going on with the COVID and in the world and anything was causing some ups and downs. Now, getting them back on campus you can kind of start to see those smiles again, see that same energy, so I’m excited to take-off where we left off back in March.”
Taking back off could be the tricky part for ECU and programs around the country. During the shutdown associated with the virus, many student-athletes were unable to workout and condition like they would have been able to on campus. Without access to gyms and weight rooms, it is entirely possible that some players will be in better shape than others as workouts start to ramp-up again.
Nevertheless, Harrell said he feels like the Pirates at least maintained the level they were at pre-shutdown, but believes nothing beats working out beside your teammates.
“I don’t think we’re in game shape, ready to go play a ball game tomorrow,” Harrell said. “I do feel they maintained, they worked, doing what they could do individually. Obviously, when you’re working out with yourself at home or with a couple of buddies, you’re going to get what you get out of it. Being around your teammates like you would be in the spring or they will be this summer, and pushing each other, I think you can just drive each other so much further and get to your goals and be more ready to play a ball game than you can by yourself.”
With the beginning of the fall semester being moved up to Aug. 10, Pirate coaches will not get to spend as much time with their players as they would have if the start date had remained in late-August like originally planned. Once classes start back, the NCAA restricts how much time student-athletes can spend working out, practicing and being in team meetings.
Under the new semester start date, Houston, Harrell and the other coaches will only get about a week and a half of practice in before school starts back.
“I guess you could look at it and say we missed spring ball, they’re moving school up and you could look at all the negatives of the situation,” Harrell said. “I always try to look at the glass half full. We have some guys that are hungry and eager and ready to go attack things…I think everything is laid out. Our goals are still in front of us and aiming full steam ahead for Aug. 29 and we just got to go attack this thing everyday.
“As I tell our players, everyday we step in the weight room, everyday we step in a meeting, everyday we step on the field, it’s got to be the best meeting, weight room session, practice that we’ve had and it’s got to be better than the day before.”
There is no doubt this preseason will be unlike any other these coaches and players have experienced in the past. While none of them can control decisions by the NCAA or their university about practice or school schedules, they can control their effort everyday in preparing for what should be a fun and exciting year of Pirate football.
Listen to Patrick Johnson’s full interview with Blake Harrell that first aired on 94.3 The Game on Thursday below: