PROVO — As two of the most significant news events of their lifetimes play out almost simultaneously across the country — the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest over social injustices — BYU football players continue to insist they are still focusing on the task at hand.

That’s to be totally ready to take on Navy in 10 days in the college football season opener for both squads.

“We just had the mindset to come to practice (Thursday), grind, and get ready for Navy,” said senior safety Troy Warner. “So that’s all that is on our minds right now.”

While some college teams, such as Boston College, took Thursday off to talk about the tragedies in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Cougars didn’t discuss that possibility, Warner said.

“I believe there is a message that you can be focused on a task at hand, and still honor and respect some things that are going on right now. That is kinda the message to our guys right now, is that we are prepping for Navy, but we understand there are very serious issues that people are standing up against, and we support whatever our guys individually feel. … Our team has been tremendous with that stuff.” — BYU receivers coach Fesi Sitake

But that doesn’t mean BYU’s players don’t support what other athletes throughout the country are doing, said running back Lopini Katoa.

“It is definitely a balance,” Katoa said. “Because a lot of crazy things are happening in the world, really important issues. … We also have to focus on our big problem, and our next game is our main focus. But at the same time being able to show the right respects and whatever we need to do for those social issues.”

BYU football player Troy Warner, shown here during practice on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, said on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, that BYU players are honing in on the opener against Navy despite the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest across the nation. | Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Warner, the brother of San Francisco 49ers star linebacker Fred Warner, was outspoken when racial unrest erupted in June over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and participated in a BYU football-produced video supporting the Black Lives Matter cause that month.

“Something we like to pride ourselves on, is when we are here in the facilities, we like to keep our main focus on what is at hand, and right now that is Navy,” Troy Warner said.

Receivers coach Fesi Sitake also spoke to reporters in a video teleconference after Thursday’s practice, and said BYU’s players are mature enough to know what is going on in the world, but be able to tune it out for a couple hours to practice.

“I believe there is a message that you can be focused on a task at hand, and still honor and respect some things that are going on right now,” said Sitake, cousin of head coach Kalani Sitake. “That is kinda the message to our guys right now, is that we are prepping for Navy, but we understand there are very serious issues that people are standing up against, and we support whatever our guys individually feel. … Our team has been tremendous with that stuff.”

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Thursday was a typical Tuesday in terms of game-week preparation, Fesi Sitake said. The Cougars will repeat the Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday practice routine next week as well. Navy requires that much prep, coaches have said.

As far as practicing amid a pandemic that on Thursday forced the cancellation of the local Provo-Timpview rivalry football game on Friday, it is still all systems go for the Cougars. 

BYU’s athletic department is not making public the results of its testing for COVID-19 among its student-athletes and support staff; On its school website, BYU reported 131 positive tests as of Monday among students, faculty and staff during summer semester.

Fall semester classes begin next Monday.

“Our support staff has been doing a great job making sure we are staying disciplined with wearing masks and everything,” linebacker Max Tooley said Tuesday. “As school is getting started, it is going to be all the more important. We are testing more, so I think they are really pushing the emphasis on social distancing, wearing masks and everything. Overall I think we have been doing a really good job of staying in line with that.”

Warner and Katoa said football players are given a saliva test for COVID-19 three times a week.

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

Katoa and Warner said players want to play a full season, 12 games, if at all possible.

Testing “is not the funnest thing ever, but if it is letting us play, we are willing to do that,” Katoa said. “It is not bad, knowing that that is what is required to play. … To see more (games) added (Wednesday) was awesome, and then we are also just thankful for the ones that we have, knowing that a lot of people are not able to play. So we will take what they can give us.”