The Georgia Southern football team has been welcoming players back to Statesboro since the beginning of last month. The Eagles brought the student athletes back in waves, and now have approximately 110 players on campus. They will begin phasing the rest of their players back shortly.
Currently the practice numbers are limited to eight players and two coaches in the weight room, and 18 players and two coaches on the field for conditioning. Head Coach Chad Lunsford says while the Covid-19 restrictions do make many things difficult, he has been looking for the positives.
“The good thing is guys are getting some good one on one work, and able to really progress,” Lunsford said. “I’m also very impressed because it’s voluntary, and we have great numbers right now. It’s baby steps right now, but we are making progress.”
Lunsford could not comment on the number of players that have tested positive for Covid-19. While some Universities have made their numbers public, Georgia Southern has adopted the same stance as the University of Georgia in directing inquiries to marketing and communications for a number of overall students who have tested positive, leaving out whether or not they are student athletes.
As for players who have decided not to report to camp due to their fear of contracting Covid 19, Lunsford said there have been a few, but right now camp is voluntary, and they will address that when camp becomes mandatory.
“I don’t want to mention who they are,” Lunsford said. “I have talked with them, their position coach talked to them, we talked to their parents and there was absolutely no blowback from us. It was made clear that we support you, and we understand. We have to get a protocol in place on how to phase them in when things do go to mandatory.”
With the current practices being mandatory it also limits what kind of restrictions coaches can put on the players to help keep them safe.
“Student athletes are here voluntarily so we can’t mandate anything as far as what they are doing, or where they are going when they are not in our facility,” Lunsford said. “It’s a lot of talking about how important it is to be safe if they want to be able to play.”
“Hats off to our training staff and strength staff for keeping our place safe,” Lunsford said. “Hats off to our guys for doing what they need to do to try and stay safe by social distancing, wearing masks and staying in small groups. If we want to have sports anytime soon our whole nation has to start doing that.”
Lunsford said, with a few exceptions, players came back in relatively good shape. He feels the most important thing between now and the scheduled start of practice on August 7th is getting the team in better condition.
“The big thing for us is getting their bodies back somewhere close to where they were before,” Lunsford said. “We aren’t going to be as strong as we have been in the past, but we need to make sure we are in as good shape as far as conditioning goes. They can do agility drills, and conditioning drills on the field at the stadium, and they are doing their lifting in the weight room. Right now those are the only facilities open to them.”
Lunsford says the two things that have been affected the most by the Covid-19 restrictions have been the weight lifting time they have missed from March till the return, and the team chemistry.
“The big difference now, and when guys just went home for the summer, is there were places those guys could go work out,” Lunsford said. “In our current conditions most gyms are closed and they can’t go to their local high schools to lift or go to a field to run or throw.”
“Where Covid has affected us the most is we don’t have the team bonding we normally have,” Lunsford said. "You’re in such small groups, and unable to meet in person. We have a tight group which is good, but it makes it even more difficult when they can’t be together.”
The Eagles will go through July 12th with voluntary workouts. July 13th will begin mandatory practice, where they can go eight hours per week strength and conditioning or film room review.
July 24th is when they are able to go into a 20 hour a week work week which will allow weights, conditioning, meetings and the ability to do a walk through with a football. August 7th is when regular practices are scheduled to begin.