While uncertainty looms over BYU football, Cougars open fall camp

With so much uncertainty surrounding BYU's 2020 football season, there was some level of assurance on Tuesday.

The last few months have been a whirlwind. Players were encouraged to go home in mid-March after the coronavirus pandemic forced spring practices to be canceled and the BYU campus to shut down. The athletic facilities reopened on June 1 for voluntary workouts, but for the most part, athletes were still left responsible for themselves.

While the Cougars have lost half of their originally-scheduled games over the last month, athletes reported for fall camp on Monday and participated in their first team practice Tuesday morning.

“With all those uncertainties and things that are happening, I think our only goal is to try to be ready for whatever happens,” coach Kalani Sitake said. “Hopefully we get those opportunities to play this fall. If we do, we’ll be ready by then. That’s out focus.”

With the recent schedule changes the Cougars have endured, Sitake said he talks to athletic director Tom Holmoe constantly, but ultimately the decisions are made by Holmoe. Sitake isn’t paid to schedule games — only to prepare the team to play the schedule, whatever that is.

And that involved getting through some kerfuffles on the first day back of action.

“I think a lot of guys are frustrated being all bottled up and now they get to get out there and play football,” Sitake said. “Great competition. It’s just been an awesome thing for me to see — great leadership. We have a little bit of pushing and shoving, and things like that, but it’s nothing too crazy.”

Along with getting the pent-up energy out, the players have had to do so while adhering to the school’s protocols and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention precautions. Players wore different face coverings during practice and took every possible precaution, Sitake said.

Senior Matt Bushman, who planned on joining the NFL draft after his junior season but instead opted to come back to Provo for his final season, said it was interesting to see where everyone was at — how in shape they were, if they were ready for fall camp, if they had the confidence coming in.

By the end of practice, Bushman didn’t feel there was much difference in the start of fall camp this year compared to other seasons, beyond having to wear a mask.

“The masks are kind of weird and kind of a hassle to put it underneath your helmet and run around,” Bushman said. “We’re just trying to adjust to circumstances. The practice is all the same. The meetings are all the same. Just trying to be cautious about the coronavirus, that’s the only weird thing. Everything football related has been all the same.”

Since programs around the nation have started up at different times and levels, different collegiate football teams have fallen victim to coronavirus outbreaks — the main issue schools are trying to prevent.

On Monday, as football players were making their way back to BYU, news broke that the amount of coronavirus cases at Rutgers University linked to the football team nearly doubled from 15 to 28. Making sure the team stays not only low-risk but COVID-19 free will be key to maintaining some sort of season.

When asked about the number of coronavirus tests administered or positive cases throughout the team since June 1, Sitake was unable to provide any information.

The fifth-year coach believes protecting players' privacy is important, but also said he didn't have the details on that.

“But I can say that we’ve ran tests and we’ve done a great job here,” Sitake said. “Administration has done a great job organizing the screening process and our sports medicine department, our doctors, have done a great job at educating our players and understanding the importance of social distancing and understanding the importance of wearing a mask and things like that.

“It’s important that we do our part so we can keep this a low-risk environment in order for us to play football.”