Spring football for the Utah State Aggies had just gotten going. Spirits were high. There was an important competition going on for the starting quarterback spot.
But just two days into practices, on March 11, the entire sports landscape started to change. Leagues far and wide announced suspensions and cancellations due to the wide spread of COVID-19.
Gary Andersen was busy coaching his players, but was also aware of all that was going on outside the confines of Maverik Stadium in Logan. As practice ended and he walked off the field, something inside told him that day would be the last of spring football.
Utah State recently announced the cancellation of all its spring sports. While football is played in the fall, that directive affects the Aggies, who had 13 practices left on their schedule.
Another victim of the coronavirus has been college recruiting. The NCAA instituted a freeze on all recruiting until at least April 15, meaning student-athletes can’t sign national letters of intent or visit campuses. Coaches are also prohibited from making recruiting visits.
So Andersen and his staff have had to get creative. Spring is usually the time many prospective players make unofficial visits to universities to watch a team practice and spend some one-on-one time with coaches.
With that personal touch presently unavailable, Andersen has been sending athletes videos and giving virtual tours of USU’s facilities. He said highlight videos of players are now going to be more important than ever.
But that’s still not a sufficient substitute for getting a prospect to Logan to fully understand understand what it’s like — and what it takes — to be an Aggie.
“To understand Cache Valley, to understand Utah State University, to understand how we are as a program and our family feel we have as a program — it’s impossible to truly show it through video,” Andersen said. “Phone calls, FaceTime, there’s still those times when there can be feelings and emotions to it, but I believe — this is my personal opinion — there’s nothing like being face to face.”
While the NCAA’s directive isn’t labeled “until further notice,” Andersen believes there is “no chance” of any spring recruiting or that summer camps will be held. So for the Aggies, this method of recruiting will have to be the norm for the foreseeable future.
As for the players currently on the team, they’re adjusting to the current situation as well. A majority of the Aggies players have left Logan and gone home. Andersen and his coaching staff are checking up on them virtually via group text. And some of the players who have families of their own are having a particularly hard time, Andersen said.
“We have a couple kids here in Logan that right now, quite frankly, they need our help,” Andersen said. “Keeping tabs on them is very, very important because I don’t want the stress to come. Or [let’s] at least limit the stress.”
Andersen said it is the job of every position coach to check in on his players, preferably verbally, and report back once or twice a week. In the team group chat, players and coaches send videos and discuss how they’re feeling — an aspect Andersen has implemented of which he is particularly proud.
But, Andersen said, his players still have a responsibility to keep in shape. The athletic trainers put together three workout programs for every player: one using body weight, one with limited weights, and one that utilizes potential access to a gym. And, each player has a running program.
“They know there’s expectations whenever they walk back in there that they are going to have that conditioning test and that’s something that they’re expected to pass,” Andersen said.
What’s most important for Andersen, however, is that his players get through the pandemic in one piece mentally. One positive of spring football being canceled is the entire team can spend some quality time with family when, during the season, those moments are few and far between.
“I hope they’re taking advantage of that and being as positive as they can in those situations and scenarios and not spending as much time with their phone and spending more time with their families,” Andersen said.