Calendars have turned to August, and under normal circumstances, the hype of the upcoming college football season would begin to reach a fever pitch as fall camps get underway and kickoffs loom.
But like so many other things in life as we currently know it, the anticipation for the season has been heavily sedated by the COVID-19 global pandemic. The season’s fate is still very much in the air, and despite rampant speculation, no one truly knows what to expect in the coming weeks.
With so much still to be decided, those within the Ohio State football program are putting forth their best collective effort to stay healthy and ensure they are doing everything within their control to help make the 2020 season a reality.
“Our players and coaches, I think, have been doing an excellent job taking care of themselves and taking care of their health over the past few months,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said during a teleconference introducing the 2020 Buckeye captains on Tuesday. “We’re holding each other accountable because we’re all in this thing together, and I think our testing policies and procedures that our training staff, sports performance (staff), and administration have implemented this year have allowed our players, our staff, and our coaches to know that we’re doing everything that we can to create the safest environment possible when we walk into the Woody (Hayes Athletic Center) every day.”
Junior guard Wyatt Davis, who was one of seven captains announced, said players are being tested twice a week for COVID-19, and mask mandates are being enforced throughout the facility.
“Ohio State has done a great job monitoring our guys and creating a safe working environment, so you just have to hope that every other school is doing the same,” Davis said. “And if they are, then I’m very optimistic that this season will happen.”
Junior center Josh Myers expressed extreme confidence in everything the staff within the WHAC are doing to keep everyone safe, to the point that he feels safer there than anywhere else.
“I think my level of comfort in our safety is really high,” Myers said. “I think there is nothing more that our coaches, trainers, and staff can do to keep us safe. I can’t say enough about what they are doing. I’d say that my level of concern for our safety is small; I’m not concerned. I’m personally confident that we’re going to have a season as well.”
Myers added, “I think that with restaurants open, bars are open, all these other places are open, and people have the freedom to do those things they want to do, which, really, are minuscule in the importance of their lives. I just feel like if people of any age can do those types of things, then if I want to, I should have the choice to play a college football season. I also feel like it’s a safer environment, being around my teammates and being in the facility and staying where it’s clean and safe.”
Quarterback Justin Fields followed up Myers’ statement by saying he, too, had no concerns about the environment that has been created at Ohio State. Rather, he said his biggest concerns and questions are raised when wondering what the environments at other schools might look like, as well as what happens when the entire student population returns to campus. Recent outbreaks involving athletes on campuses such as Rutgers University have highlighted just how fragile the season outlook currently appears.
“I think with everything going on here at Ohio State, we’re safe here at Ohio State, and I think all of our players feel safe at Ohio State,” Fields said. “But again, the big question is what other schools are doing.”
Asked about his confidence regarding a season, senior linebacker Justin Hilliard said it’s all he and his teammates are preparing for, while also understanding they have to continue to do their part to make it happen.
“As a team, we obviously can’t control many of the other things that are going on out there, but we understand what we do have control over,” Hilliard said. “We can’t have guys testing positive for coronavirus. So, we’re doing our best to social distance, wear masks, and wash our hands as much as possible, because we know that if we do have a sickness, that could jeopardize our season.”
Of course, even if the season is played, there are valid questions as to why some of the game’s highest-profile draft prospects would even risk their bodies for a makeshift season. Recently, Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman announced he will opt out of the season, and there are reports that Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons will do the same. Both are expected to be high draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, and it is safe to assume they won’t be the last household names to decide against playing their final college football seasons.
Several Buckeyes have been included in opt-out speculation, highlighted by Fields and cornerback Shaun Wade. However, at least for the time being, neither are ready to consider the prospect of not playing again for the Buckeyes.
“Getting to the money as fast I can isn’t really a priority for me,” Fields said. “Just playing with my teammates and grinding every day with (strength and conditioning) coach Mick (Marotti) … that’s what I’m cherishing the most right now.”
Wade, who might have been a first-rounder had he declared for the 2020 NFL Draft, said he’s had no second thoughts about his decision return, nor is he considering opting out.
“I’m just really taking it day by day and trying to enjoy what we have right now,” Wade said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.