CARBONDALE — ZeVeyon Furcron and his teammates did the hard work to get to Friday's first day of SIU football practice.
They were responsible during the summer, limiting their exposure to others and wearing face coverings in public, and have done their best to follow the Salukis' unusual protocols since arriving on campus. Two temperature checks a day. Symptoms check. Position meetings over Zoom. A weekly test for the coronavirus, which has knocked fall football out of five different FCS leagues so far. Staying with their workout group.
Furcron, a senior offensive guard, said he's willing to do whatever it takes to get to the season opener at Kansas on Aug. 29.
"A lot of guys have been training, and staying active, and staying ready," Furcron said. "Like I told myself (the other day), I'm going to be ready for whatever comes. It's hard with social media and stuff, on whether we're gonna have a season, or whether or not, and as coach talked to us, just stay ready. Stay ready so we don't gotta get ready."
Weather-permitting, SIU was scheduled to begin the first of 25 practices before the opener Friday morning at Saluki Stadium. The National Weather Service was calling for a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms Friday, mainly after 1 p.m., with a high of 81 degrees. The weather is the least of the Salukis' problems, who aim to make a go of it this fall. They will have all of their players on the same field, but will space them out significantly more than normal, coach Nick Hill said, in order to reach CDC and state regulations.
The team can have more than one group of 50 players on the field at once, but those groups must be separated by 10 feet or more. Typically, most of practice is spent with guys working out with their position groups, about 6-12 players, and moving around to different drill stations. Special teams drills and 7-on-7 passing drills may include about 20 on the field, tops. The biggest risk to spreading anything — as of Friday the football team had zero positive tests for COVID-19 — will probably be when the offense goes against the defense and the two groups are on their respective sidelines.
The coaches will be masked up during practice, Hill said. Amidst a lot of uncertainty, the Salukis are trying to take a long-term approach.
"We gotta make sure we're smart with those reps, too," said Hill, a former quarterback at SIU who enters his fifth year as the head coach. "Every coach in America is probably thinking about that. You don't wanna start out too fast and try to accomplish too much too quick, and then you've got soft tissue injuries, and hamstrings, and hip flexors, and people who can't practice, so we've gotta be smart with that. We're going to get our team ready, and we're definitely excited."
The Missouri Valley Conference announced earlier this week it would push back fall practices for all of its sports until mid-to-late August because of the pandemic. The league's 10 volleyball and women's soccer teams will play only a conference schedule this fall, beginning Sept. 18. The Missouri Valley Football Conference, which SIU competes in, hasn't given its teams any restrictions on beginning practice.
SIU athletic director Liz Jarnigan said the football team put a lot of thought into how it would try to practice and keep its athletes safe.
"We feel very good about the protocols that we have in place," she said. "In fact, so far, I'm knocking on wood here, we've had zero positive COVID tests out of our football program. That could, obviously, change, and nobody's immune, but we feel good about that and we feel confident in the protocol that we have set should a positive test arrive."
Practices are closed to the media and the public for the foreseeable future. SIU's sports information office said that policy could change.
On Twitter: @THefferman
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