Facebook Twitter

‘You never want to get a call from the medical staff’: Frequent, but necessary COVID-19 testing adds stress for BYU football players

Two days after BYU pummeled Troy 48-7 and four days before it hosts Louisiana Tech, assistant head coach Ed Lamb said the Cougars are ‘trending in the right direction’ in regards to avoiding positive coronavirus tests

SHARE ‘You never want to get a call from the medical staff’: Frequent, but necessary COVID-19 testing adds stress for BYU football players
Milne__Dax_W2_1540.jpg

BYU photo

PROVO — Playing major college sport while simultaneously handling a heavy load of academic work, online or not, creates a high amount of stress for BYU’s student-athletes, especially football players.

Throw in frequent testing for COVID-19, testing that could not only determine whether they can play in the upcoming game, but whether some of their teammates and roommates can as well, and the entire situation is downright frightening, Cougars receiver Dax Milne said Monday.

“I think as we’ve gone into this routine of testing, I don’t think we get as nervous every time now, but it is still in the back of our heads that, ‘oh, we could be held out,’” he said. “You never want to get a call from the medical staff.”

“I think as we’ve gone into this routine of testing, I don’t think we get as nervous every time now, but it is still in the back of our heads that, ‘oh, we could be held out.’ You never want to get a call from the medical staff.” — BYU receiver Dax Milne

Milne’s situation is doubly stressful, because he has lived in the same house as arguably the most important player on the team, quarterback Zach Wilson. As BYU players learned after a small number tested positive after the 55-3 win over Navy forced the postponement of the scheduled Sept. 19 game at Army, not only are they isolated for 10 to 14 days, anyone who had direct contact with them must also go into quarantine.

“It is nerve-wracking, for sure,” said Milne, who caught seven passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in No. 22 BYU’s 48-7 romp over Troy on Saturday.

The Cougars (2-0) got back to work Monday, and into their three-times-a-week testing routine for coronavirus, as they look ahead to a visit from Louisiana Tech (2-0) on Friday at 7 p.m. at LaVell Edwards Stadium, which will remain without fans for the second straight game.

On his “Coordinators’ Corner” show Monday morning, assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Ed Lamb said personnel numbers “should be up this week” after an estimated dozen or so players missed the Troy game due to injury, positive COVID-19 tests, or contact tracing from being around an infected person.

“We are really trending in the right direction right now (with coronavirus avoidance), feel really good about that,” Lamb said. “We are learning all the time what it means to be in a high-risk environment, and how they can be determined to have to stay in quarantine, even if they are negative. So guys are taking better care of that, and our health seems to be pretty good right now.”

Wilson, who threw for career-high 392 yards Saturday and was named to the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award’s Great 8 list on Monday, acknowledged last week that he contracted the virus over the summer and had 90 days — approximately the end of this week — to find a place to live alone so he wouldn’t be caught up in the contact tracing and have to go into quarantine again.

“You know, it is hard,” he said after the record-setting performance when asked if he’s moved out yet. “I am still trying to figure it out. I got another week, but I definitely have some options.”

Linebacker Keenan Pili, who led the Cougars with nine tackles against the Trojans and also appeared on a Zoom call with reporters Monday afternoon, said the defense is deep enough this year that testing negative is not as critical as it could be, but still scary.

“I always anxiously wait to hear an answer on mine, every time I take it,” Pili said. “It is a little bit (nerve-wracking), because no one wants to sit out for something like that.”

Players who test positive are generally informed by the sports medicine staff immediately, while those who are negative get the results on a “Healthy Together” application every player, coaching staff member and support staff member has downloaded on his or her cellphone.

“I know our training staff is doing all they can to keep us all healthy,” Pili said. “We as a team have done a good job to live these protocols, wear our masks, stay 6 feet away, so it hasn’t been too bad, I would say.”

Defensive lineman Zac Dawe, part of a group that held Troy to eight first downs and 181 total yards, said football is fun but this is a “scary time” for players and everyone knows they could test positive at any time, despite their best efforts to avoid the virus.

“The (medical people) have done a great job of making sure that we know exactly what is expected — no sugar coating of what is going on,” Dawe said. “But at the same time they are taking the best care of us and just giving us the best opportunity they can for us to play football.”

There’s a lot of stress on the coaching staff, too, Lamb said, noting that coaches might not know who will be available to play “until 24 hours before the game” in some cases.

A BYU athletics department spokesperson said in June that the Cougars wouldn’t publicly divulge numbers of positive tests among their student-athletes, and they have maintained that stance into the football season.

Head coach Kalani Sitake said coaching in a pandemic “is way different, actually,” than during healthier times.

“You just have to factor in who could possibly (be out) as you are doing a depth chart and trying to get practice ready,” Sitake said. “And then you are still trying to decide (based) on the anxiety and the stress of a test result. And then you are dealing with contact tracing. You are trying to space guys out so that doesn’t become an issue. You try to keep a low risk environment so it only effects that person who tests positive.”

Sitake said they usually cross train players during the spring to play different positions, but this year they are doing that in-season.

“For example, we have a good group of backers that can play more than one position, but it doesn’t allow you to just let then settle in that one spot, because you have to deal with COVID testing,” he said. “Those are a few changeups that you don’t plan on. … Now it is part of every day football in college football in the year 2020.”

Where stress is as common as touchdowns and field goals.