PROVO — BYU’s spring football practices were cut short back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, plenty of Cougar players reconvened on campus for the first time since then for voluntary workouts. 

“It’s really refreshing to be back with the guys. I haven’t seen everyone because they’ve split us up into groups to keep it small,” said linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi. “It’s been great to be back and be around the facility and train with the guys and see the strength and conditioning coaches. It’s starting to feel a little more normal. It’s been fun and a lot of guys are ready to get into it and dial in the next few weeks. It’s exciting.”

“It can be kind of a hassle but overall it’s protecting us, and it’s protecting our staff and we’re allowed back. Guys are willing to do whatever it takes to get back. Guys are just excited to be back.” — BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi

The NCAA Division I Council voted in May to allow voluntary on-campus athletic activities to continue in football and men’s and women’s basketball beginning June 1. BYU subsequently announced that those teams could return to campus that day. 

The Cougars are among the first teams around the country to start voluntary on-campus workouts.

Still, there are strict protocols set up to protect the players and other members of the campus community. Players are screened when they arrive to ensure they aren’t ill. If they are cleared by medical staff, they receive a wristband, which allows them access to the weight room, the training room and the practice fields. 

“It can be kind of a hassle but overall it’s protecting us, and it’s protecting our staff and we’re allowed back,” Kaufusi said. “Guys are willing to do whatever it takes to get back. Guys are just excited to be back. As football players, we enjoy structure. To be able to have that structure, for a lot of guys, is really exciting. The majority of the guys have been working really hard. Then as soon as you bring all that juice and energy around your teammates, it’s exhilarating. Guys are pumped to be back and get ready for football. We just want to play football. We’re excited to get back into it.”

“We’ve been in the unknown for so long,” said running back Lopini Katoa. “To go back and be with the boys — not everybody, we’re in small groups — it was nice to go back with the team and take this step forward.”

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BYU is scheduled to kick off the 2020 season on Sept. 3 at arch-rival Utah. Of course, there’s still a lot of uncertainty. Will the season start on time? Will the season be postponed? If there are games, will there be fans in the stands? 

“I feel like overall, I’m getting used to expecting the unexpected with everything going on right now,” Katoa said. “We’ve just got to take it for what it is right now. Whatever the season may be, if there even is one, who knows, we’ll be ready as much as we can. I feel like this step of getting back into the facilities is a really good sign.” 

Kaufusi said staying in shape and staying motivated has been hard at times during this long layoff from on-campus activities. But he’s been able to gain support from, and work out with, two of his cousins who are former Cougars and play in the NFL — Bronson and Corbin Kaufusi. 

“I’m very blessed. I have a lot of resources around me,” Kaufusi said. “Our strength staff created workouts and training regimens that we were able to do at home.” 

Katoa said he didn’t have access to a weight room early on this spring, so he did a lot of running to stay in shape and used weights he had around his house. Eventually, his high school trainer contacted him and Katoa started training with him. 

“I feel like I’ve been able to make a lot of improvements,” he said. 

BYU held six practices in March before on-campus activities were banned. But because the Cougars started so early, they got in more practices than many other schools. Some programs saw their spring practices canceled entirely before they began. 

“Those few practices we got in were really huge for us. We learned a lot in the little amount of time we were there. During our team Zoom meetings (during the pandemic), we were able to watch practices,” Kaufusi said. “There are teams that weren’t able to get film of their practices. We had guys that were impressive in the spring and coaches were able to see that. I think it will be an advantage for us. For a football player, the best times are the season and spring ball. That’s when we really get to play football. For that to get cut short was a bummer. But for us, it will be a huge advantage.”

Katoa is grateful for the practices the team had in the spring. 

“It was definitely weird when spring ball ended. We had gotten six practices and so there was a lot of work that we missed out on,” he said. “In ways, we’ve been able to make that up through (Zoom) meetings. On the offensive side, we’re able to go over film and our knowledge of our schemes, we may have had an advantage because we had so much time to learn it. There are things that we have to make up for with the time lost but we benefited in other ways.”

Now the Cougars are benefiting from being back on campus for voluntary workouts.