TAMPA, Fla. — For the first time in three months, the Bulls are back together on campus for the start of voluntary workouts. USF held its first and only spring practice on March 10 before the pandemic suspended all sports activities.
“Today’s a big day,” head coach Jeff Scott said.
Eighty players were tested for COVID-19, and all tests came back negative. The remaining players on the 90-man roster are being held out as a precaution.
“We have some young men that are coming back from areas in Florida or Georgia that are kind of considered (coronavirus) hot-spot zones,” Scott said. “So, they have to quarantine for 14 days before they’re allowed to participate in the voluntary workouts. I would say of all the guys that are cleared and ready to go, I expect them to be here for day one.”
Weights and equipment used for strength training have been moved from the gym to a large white tent outside the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center. Conditioning and running drills are set up on the football practice fields.
Players in groups of 10 rotate through the stations from about 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and staff members use misting machines to sanitize the equipment between each group.
All team and staff members are required to wear a mask except for the players while running.
“Some of our players had access to be able to do some stuff (while campus was closed), and some other guys had to do whatever they could do out in their back yard,” Scott said. “For us, it’s not about picking up where we left off. It’s really about seeing where the guys are and kind of safely bringing them along.”
Before entering the facilities, individuals are screened and checked for a fever.
Schools across the country have already had football players test positive for COVID-19: Alabama with five, and UCF with three. Scott said the risk of his players catching the virus is always on his mind.
“I mean, there's been 1,000 different scenarios,” Scott said. “Just one scenario is if one of your quarterbacks were to test positive for COVID, and he's been sitting in a room with the other four quarterbacks, do all them after quarantine for 14 days? It may be a little harder to get practice and play a game without a quarterback.”
For any parents who are worried about sending their children into locker rooms with the threat of a second wave of the coronavirus still looming, Scott scheduled Zoom calls to answer their concerns. Strength and conditioning coach Trumain Carroll joined him on the two calls – one with the parents of offensive players and specialists, and one with the parents of defensive players – to explain the workout plan.
“I think they were very comfortable with the answers that we've given,” Scott said. “That's probably one thing that I've learned through this process. I think even whenever we get back to normal circumstances where we can meet with our guys in person, being able to communicate with the parents, through Zoom or something like that in the future, I think is something that we'll continue to do.”
Players aren’t allowed to touch a football until July when the NCAA begins its six-week preseason plan. Per NCAA rules, coaches also aren’t allowed to watch players workout or host team meetings in person until the preseason starts.
But in his first year at the helm of USF, Scott wants to find another way to bond with his new players.
“We're going to find some ways to get around our guys,” Scott said. “Whether it's having small groups and going and meeting them for dinner or something like that, those will be some things that we'll be able to do here over the next few weeks to start connecting with them a little bit more in person.”
For the last month, Scott has called five players per day, Monday through Friday. His goal is to start relationships off the field, talking to each player for 15-20 minutes.
“I want to know about their family, where they grew up, where they went to high school, how they got to South Florida, what their experience has been like, what things they feel like need to improve in their program to take the next step,” Scott said. “It's been really a great opportunity to get to know our players on an individual, one-on-one basis.”
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