Almost six months after spring practices were canceled, USF football returned to campus Friday for the start of preseason camp.
It was a big step toward the start of the season after being limited to individual workouts in small groups since June.
More importantly, the Bulls go into fall camp with a clean bill of health.
“I’m just very hopeful that we’ll be able to continue to find a safe and healthy way for these guys to continue practice and hopefully find a way to be able to play some things as well,” coach Jeff Scott said.
Since the start of individual workouts, 514 coronavirus tests were administered to players, coaches and staff. There were 24 positive tests, but currently, zero players are quarantining due to positive tests or contact tracing, according to Scott.
Two players have decided to sit out the season due to coronavirus concerns — defensive lineman John Waller and wide receiver Jenard Phillips.
Both Waller and Phillips will have their scholarships honored due to AAC rules regarding sitting out the season.
They also have the personal backing of their coach.
“I support them 100 percent,” Scott said. “This is a personal decision that each and every one of our young men, players and coaches, have to make.”
With getting his team physically and mentally ready for the season ahead, Scott stressed the importance of putting the safety of his players first. Making sure they understood safety protocols was one of Scott’s chief goals.
“I asked our guys, I said, ‘Hey, do y’all want to play? I just want to make sure it’s not just me as a first-year coach all excited,’ they said ‘No, coach we want to play,’” Scott said. “Obviously, they have concerns and want to be educated on all the protocols.
“My role is to support our players, keep them safe and healthy, and help them get better every day in everything they do.”
Naturally, there’s some level of concern among the players when it comes to playing this season.
Quarterback Jordan McCloud said players, not just the medical staff, have the responsibility of doing what they can to stay safe.
“I’m a big guy on faith, so at the end of the day we just got to trust that the staff is doing it right,” he said. “The players have been responsible, wearing their masks, keeping distance from each other.
“We all love football, and that’s what we want to do and we want to do it right.”
That responsibility also extends to off the field.
“I don’t hang out in big groups like I used to anymore, especially because I know [if] you catch the virus you’re out for 14 days. That’s two games right there,” McCloud said.
There’s a lot riding on both players and staff staying healthy throughout fall camp, especially as the proposed trip to Texas on Sept. 4 looms overhead.
That game looks doubtful, however, as the Big 12 earlier this week announced it would be limiting its teams to just one nonconference game.
Scott remains optimistic they’ll play Texas over Labor Day weekend, but he’s more concerned about fulfilling his role as a coach — safely preparing his players for a season, regardless of when it starts.
“My job as the head coach is to get our players ready so that whenever Michael Kelly and the leadership and everybody says, ‘Here’s our games, we’re going to go play,’ we’re going to be ready,” Scott said.
“If for some reason they get delayed or we don’t, then hey, we’ll adjust from that, but that’s really the mindset that I’ve taken is just to really get our guys ready in October.”