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BYU’s football COVID-19 testing protocols come into focus

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young running back Lopini Katoa (4) runs the ball for the Cougars, in football action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Liberty Flames at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019.

Up until now, BYU staff has been mute on specific pandemic protocols, instead covering general topics, like social distancing and face masks. Following Thursday’s practice Cougar defensive back Troy Warner finally provided some insight into what testing is like: Players are getting tested three times a week.

“We’re been real diligent about it and just trying to do our part in staying healthy for the season,” Warner said. “We’re very, very lucky to be playing this year and, obviously, we don’t want to do anything that jeopardizes the season for us. So we’ve been doing everything we can, including wearing masks whenever and doing what we’ve got to in order to play.”

Junior running back Lopini Katoa expanded on the topic, explaining the players get tested through saliva samples, not nasal cavity swabs.

Although still not a fun experience, Katoa said he’s more than willing to be tested three times a week for the chance to play.

Cougars practice on amidst racial unrest

On Wednesday, the sports world in North America mostly came to a halt.

It served as an eerie déjà vu, as the scene at the Bucks-Magic game in the NBA bubble resembled that of the Jazz-Thunder game on a Wednesday night five months ago. Unlike the situation at the start of the pandemic, the game wasn’t canceled due to a pair of positive tests. Instead, players boycotted the game to raise awareness on the current racial unrest, following the shooting of another event of police violence on a Black person.

Since then, many teams — from all sports — opted to cancel practice for a chance to have team discussions. Following the lead from several NFL teams, USF and Boston College canceled their practice.

At BYU, the idea of having a similar team discussion wasn’t brought up. The focus is all on the upcoming season opener at Navy.

“That’s something we like to pride ourselves on — when we’re here, when we’re in the facilities, we like just keep our main focus on what’s at hand,” senior Troy Warner said. “And right now, that’s Navy. That’s the biggest thing we have our focus on.”

Wide receivers coach Fesi Sitake has liked the way the players have been able to compartmentalize and keep the focus on the game 11 days away. However, just because practices seem to be going on as normal, Sitake said it doesn’t mean players and staff aren’t tuned in to the latest wave of racial unrest.

“We understand there are very, very serious issues that people are standing up against, and we support whatever our guys, individually, feel because it’s a real sensitive time right now,” Sitake said. “But we also have a game with Navy coming up, and I think there’s definitely an ability to balance those two things.”

Katoa make his case for starting RB job

Back when news broke of Devonta’e Henry-Cole’s decision to relocate from Utah to BYU, it seemed likely the grad transfer would be one of the top contenders for the starting running back gig. But then Henry-Cole surprised people even more by choosing to transfer once more six months later — this time to Utah State.

However, fall camp seems to have produced a strong candidate: Katoa. And he’s ready for it.

“I hope to be,” Katoa said. “I feel good about it.”

Katoa is one of the top two rushers coming back and led the team in carriers for a second consecutive year in 2019.

The junior has been praised by coaches over the last couple of weeks as a player who has put in the work to stand out, but Kalani Sitake was still coy about plans for the running back group (whether there will be a workhorse back or played by committee) earlier this week.

The Cougars also have experienced returners in Sione Finau, Tyler Allgier and even Jackson McChesney, who saw limited action in his true freshman season last year.

“Without giving away too much about our game planning and scheme and stuff, I think you have backs that can do a lot of different things and then we have certain backs that do good things out of the back field, including blocking and catching the ball,” Sitake said. “Utilizing those guys — I think you’re going to see a bunch of different personnel groups on the field and a lot of different groups to utilize all the skills we have.”

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