As BYU football players head for home, Cougar coaches have plan to keep the offseason workouts going

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU head coach Kalani Sitake gathers his team during the first half of the NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, at LaVell Edwards stadium in Provo, Utah.

While BYU’s spring football practice was canceled after only six workouts due to the coronavirus, players and staff didn’t automatically switch into offseason mode. If anything, they are trying to make sure to be even more on top of things considering people still don’t know how the pandemic could potentially affect college football.

As of last week, coach Kalani Sitake said a third of his players had already left campus to go home and more would be making arrangements in the coming days and weeks.

The physical transition of getting players back home proved to be fairly easy, as flights were cheaper than usual. The staff made sure to keep instilling travel safety and proper hygiene in the players as they headed out.

Once home, the staff still checks in with players, both those still in Utah and those out of state, pretty regularly.

“We're talking with them and staying in contact with them, communicating with them,” Sitake said. “It's our job as coaches and as mentors to help educate them as much as possible on the coronavirus, but also the adjustments and the transition we're making here. … At this point on, we've got to focus on today and really focus on what we're trying to accomplish, just as people more than anything.”

Because all workout facilities at BYU are closed, and people are self isolating as much as possible or even under stay-at-home orders, each player is responsible for himself to keep up with workouts. However, not everyone has the same resources available.

That’s where the director of football strength and conditioning Nu’u Tafisi and his staff come into play.

Tafisi has created bodyweight workouts that have been sent out across the board, with some personal modifications for those that can't do certain workouts (like athletes that are recovering from shoulder surgery or knee surgery). Bodyweight workouts, which they are asked to complete three times a week, don't require any equipment to be efficient.

Players also got some conditioning workouts, although there was a lighter emphasis on it, depending on what they have available, like a park close enough they can run at, a hill in their backyard they can climb, a big enough outdoor space where they can sprint and so forth.

But that's not all.

Once home, the players were asked to send the strength and conditioning team photos of any equipment they may have at home so the staff can evaluate it and come up with the best workouts for the player with what they have available.

Tafisi's goal is for the players to return to campus (whenever that is) at 75%, but also to not burn them out.

Because it is unclear how long the players will have to be responsible for themselves until they're able to come back together, they were asked to initially check in with the strength and conditioning team after two weeks and then transition to weekly updates.

And as far as the mental health aspect, Sitake said he's been in touch with the team's counselors and they've been available to help the players, coaches and staff at this time.

“They've been consistently keeping up with our players, our coaches and everyone that needs support at this time,” Sitake said. “And that level of confidentiality, I think it's really important at this time. They made the adjustment really easy and have done an amazing job of keeping in touch with our players, and being able to satisfy all their needs.”

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune BYU defensive lineman Merrill Taliauli, left, works out against offensive lineman Chandon Herring Tuesday August 23.

Chandon Herring, however, has been one of the players that has gone home and picked up a former job to help keep him in better shape.

The offensive lineman returned to Gilbert, Ariz. when students were asked to leave BYU and quickly got a job at Dynamic Concrete, where he worked when he came back home after his church mission to help himself get back in shape for football.

Besides completing the bodyweight workouts and conditioning provided by the Cougar staff, and also completing his school work, Herring is also working 12-plus hour shifts, six days a week.

Although Arizona governor Doug Ducey announced stay-at-home orders for the entire state that went into effect on Tuesday, Herring's job is considered essential and therefore the lineman will continue working for the concrete company.

I typical work day for Herring starts at 5 a.m. Then the group will head out to any of the projects they’ve got going on now — the company deals with larger homes and commercial projects — and start digging out for footing to put in the first layer of concrete for the building.

Then Herring will tie rebar — a reinforcement bar — or bend it for corners. If there’s a mistake with the concrete, they’ll tear it out with sledgehammers, air jacks or picks.

“I'll spend two hours in a row putting over 100 pounds worth of rebar on my back, walking it around, laying it down where it needs to go,” Herring said. “So, it's just a constant going. When they can't get the concrete truck back to where you are trying to get the concrete, we'll wheel barrel it back. So, it's just all sorts of really fun stuff that changes day to day.”

Herring will have been back in Arizona two weeks this Thursday, but even though he hasn't been with his teammates, he still feels connected to them. They are staying in touch and keeping themselves updated on their workouts.

Herring said he's glad to see everyone is as dedicated as he thought they would be.

“They're all doing what they need to be doing,” Herring said. “And then the only downfall is just not knowing when this is going to go out. We're all doing our best to be safe and healthy, which is great, but there's no 'ok, we'll be done by this day and we'll be back.' It's just kind of weird not having a clear start date.”

During last week’s press conference, Sitake said he wasn’t worried about potentially having less time to prepare for the upcoming season — the Cougars will work with whatever timeframe they are given. The only request Sitake would have is that every team gets the same amount of time to get ready.

Jumping straight into a season could be a little rough, so Herring would like a little more time to practice before the season.

“If we come back a week before the first game, it will be a little rough,” Herring said. “But if we’re able to have a couple of weeks, then I think we’ll be able to get back to right where we need to be.”