CARBONDALE — The coronavirus took away ZeVeyon Furcron's last spring ball as a senior offensive lineman, summer conditioning, and the ability to work out with all of his teammates this month. But when you're a leader, you find other ways to encourage people when you can't physically give them a high five or a chest bump.
"Big adjustment from me, because I'm a big, emotional guy. I really like to embrace one another, or chest-bump, or whatever it is," said Furcron, a second team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference pick who was a team captain last year for SIU's football team. "It's definitely been different, but you can still shout at a guy. You can still shout out a guy, and give him some love, and encourage people, and build people up. It's just a different way of doing it."
Not much has been the same for Furcron and the Salukis, as they continue to prepare for a 2020 season that may not actually start. Five FCS conferences have already called off their fall seasons, the Ivy League, Patriot League, MEAC, SWAC and CAA. Two CAA programs, James Madison and Elon, have said they want to play independently of the league this fall. The Missouri Valley Football Conference, where SIU competes, has not said what its fall plans will be. So SIU's players and coaches continue to schedule workouts, practices and meetings with the season opener at Kansas on Aug. 29 in their sights.
Furcron, a 6-foot-1, 320-pound senior in his fifth year, gave The Southern Illinoisan a glimpse into the Saluki Football bubble this week. To limit players and coaches' exposure to each other, and the general public, it includes a battery of tests and procedures in order to grant access to their facilities. So far, so good. The football team had zero positive tests for COVID-19 as of Saturday, coach Nick Hill said, and everyone has arrived for the opening day of training camp on Friday.
The football team started working out July 13 under a new NCAA rule passed in mid-June. Division I programs could conduct up to eight hours a week of weight training, conditioning and film review until July 23. Film review could not be more than two hours a week. Last week, their activity went up to 20 hours a week, with up to six hours per week for walk-throughs, which could include a football. Normally, Division I football teams work out with their programs' strength and conditioning staff most of the summer while taking classes. Coaches couldn't do anything with them until the first day of fall practice.
Now they can meet for up to six hours a week, including position meetings, team meetings and film review. Most of it, if not all of it, is done virtually through Zoom, which makes team leaders like Furcron incredibly valuable.
"Our veteran guys have to step up, because there's not gonna be a lot of time for, not that there can't be position battles, but we've got to be preparing and going," Hill said. "And we have a veteran team, so we know a lot about this team. There's always a freshman who surprises ya, and will be able to help your team out. In this case, everybody has got to be ready to play."
Players typically work out early in the morning, Furcron said, at either 6 or 8 a.m. They get their temperature checked on their way out to the Saluki Stadium field (symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, dry cough and shortness of breath). After their conditioning, they go lift until about 8:30 or 9 if they started early. Players are divided into three groups. They work out on the field together and lift together to limit interaction with other players.
After weightlifting the players can usually go home and relax until their next Zoom meeting with the team or their position coach. The players then have to return to campus to get their temperature checked again around 3 p.m. At night, they can go to Walmart, Kroger or Schnucks, to pick up essentials, but are encouraged to make it quick.
"Really try to stay home as much as possible, but if you need to get something, get back as soon as you can," Furcron said.
Players are tested once a week for COVID-19 and get daily calls from members of the athletic training staff if they don't have a scheduled workout. The idea is to stay on top of anyone who does develop symptoms of the virus and try to limit its web of weakness, so to speak. Through contact tracing, anybody that has been discovered to have been around someone who tests positive has to isolate themselves. Several Salukis have missed some workouts because of that, Hill said, even though they didn't test positive.
"You've got to assume you're going to have a few positives throughout the year," Hill said. "They may be asymptomatic, but their roommates will have to quarantine with 'em, and you try to keep that number as small as you can when you have a couple positives. We're testing weekly. Hopefully we go weeks in a row where we don't have any."
Furcron lives with two other potential starters, senior defensive end Anthony Knighton and sophomore running back Romeir Elliott, who was SIU's third-leading rusher last season. All three of them know they must do their part to give themselves, and the Salukis, the best chance to play this fall.
"The things you normally would do in the game of football, like the training, you kind of gotta step away from and look at the bigger picture," Furcron said. "Embracing the guys... you can't really do that. Practicing social distancing in the weight room, and wiping everything off when we're done, and wearing gloves, and the logistics of it."
On Twitter: @THefferman
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