HUNTINGTON—This past Monday morning, voluntary workouts inside the Chris Cline Athletic Complex in Huntington signaled the restart of Marshall athletics after nearly three months of inactivity. According to the athletic staff, the primary goal for Monday’s sessions was safety.
Last week, the majority of Marshall football players were asked to report to campus, self-isolate for seven days, and then spent two days receiving COVID-19 tests. The university announced on Monday that two student-athletes in that group had tested positive, in addition to one of their staff members.
Those student-athletes and others who reported having potential exposure did not participate in Monday’s workouts. Those who did participate were subject to some extreme safety measures upon entering the indoor facility.
“The first day went really well,” said Thundering Herd head strength and conditioning coach Luke Day. “We’re taking a lot of precautions and measures to make sure this is a safe environment to train. We’re blessed with the layout of the athletic campus that we have because we’re spread out and these groups are small, fewer than 10 people. The closest they ever are to each other is six feet. Every single thing that these kids touch is wiped down before the next person touches it. We’re all wearing masks, which is a learning curve and a hurdle in its own right, to condition and train with something over your face. The kids took it in stride; they followed it. They want to be here. They’re right there with us, as much as we want college football to come back this fall.”
Monday’s workouts involved small groups who started at the indoor facility, then moved on to the weight room, then moved on the football stadium before finally exiting to the West Lot on the opposite side of the stadium as the indoor facility.
“The flow of it is to prevent anyone going backwards after they’ve gone through each station,” said
Marshall Associate Athletic Trainer Jared Muth “We’re trying to limit as many bodies in one facility as we need to. The state has lifted a lot of the restrictions from when we started this planning. For the first few weeks, it doesn’t hurt to continue those guidelines while we navigate through this thing, then in a couple of weeks we can make our groups bigger. Right now, they’re small, manageable groups, and keep the flow so that we know when we’ve cleaned something and the next group comes in, it’s ready.”
As they entered the doors on the west side of the complex, the athletes had their hands sanitized and then received a temperature reading. As the players completed each indoor station, a team of staff members sanitized every surface that a player contacted before the next athlete could use the equipment. This meant sometimes spraying and wiping a surface every 10-15 seconds based on its continued use by different players.
Every athlete also had to train with a mask on, which were provided by the athletic department.
“The masks were a big point of contention among the players, they didn’t really like them,” added Muth. “We tested them, but we’re not in a bubble. They have to go to the grocery store and do other essential things. The masks are a precaution for anything they’ve picked up and if we do have the off chance of another case that pops up, we want to protect everyone from that as much as we can. We’re going to take as many precautions as we can, and then ease up as we see fit.”
Day, who returned to Marshall as the head strength and conditioning coach in January, decreased the amount of weight lifted by the players and covered less ground than usual, but he compared the players adaptation to the training by how an oven warms to a set temperature. It’s a gradual process that the players will adjust to over the next few weeks.
“This is the longest break that college football has had other than before they started doing summer conditioning,” stated Day. “You don’t just jump back in like you never left. A lot of these guys didn’t have access to weight rooms or equipment. Some couldn’t even leave their apartment. To throw them back into this is not safe and not good for them. The first few days we want to get their bodies back and acclimated to training and moving around and running and lifting and pushing and pulling and starting and stopping and jumping. That’s what today was about and that’s what this whole week is about. As we progress and get closer and closer to camp, we’ll keep dialing it up to get more and more intense to have them ready for what this game demands from them.”
Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick recently assembled a COVID-19 task force, which has worked together to create plan that continues to be used today. And Muth expressed that he has never been involved with such a large group effort on a project, mentioning Herd Associate Athletic Director Beatrice Crane Banford specifically and her value to the program.
“We’re really working with as many groups as I’ve worked with before,” Muth said. “This is as intermingled as we have ever been. Beatrice has been a huge asset to this whole deal. Really the mastermind behind it. This has been the biggest undertaking in terms of an interdepartmental cooperation. The campus has taken a long, close look at this too. They’re going to take a lot of notes from how we are doing things, so they want to help us out and make sure we get this right. We get one chance at this. We want to put our plan into action, and when we get this right we can show people how this is done. We want to be the example.”
Marshall’s first football game is scheduled against East Carolina in Greenville, NC on Saturday, August 29th. They will then have an off week before returning home to host Pitt on Saturday, September 12th at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington.