Despite the coronavirus affecting students on Texas A&M’s campus, the Aggie football team has remained mostly isolated from the spread of COVID-19, head coach Jimbo Fisher said on a Zoom press conference Thursday.
Fisher said the team has remained “basically virus free” since the beginning of fall camp on Aug. 17.
“Our players, I’m going to commend them on this,” Fisher said. “They have done an outstanding job of keeping this in what they are doing and their precautions. For us to practice and not have guys missing and doing all that, they’ve done an outstanding job. Very mature and very disciplined in that regard.”
According to A&M’s COVID-19 dashboard, 747 students, faculty and staff tested positive for the virus from Aug. 2-28, the time period in which most students returned for the fall semester. While the A&M athletics department has declined to release testing numbers, citing the protection of student-athlete privacy, Fisher has said only two players have been isolated due to contact tracing since the first week of fall camp.
Almost all of A&M’s student-athletes are taking classes online this fall, athletics director Ross Bjork said earlier in the summer on the Studio 12 radio show. That’s helped create a semi-bubble around the various teams.
“Our training staff has done a tremendous job ever since we came back,” A&M linebacker Anthony Hines III said. “They were on top of things, keeping us informed as far as when is our test, et cetera. The procedures that the SEC has brought about, they are really solid.”
The football program will begin testing three times a week Monday. Athletes currently are tested once per week. A third-party agency contracted by the Southeastern Conference will conduct the tests for its 14 schools beginning Monday through the remainder of the season. The SEC has not announced the name of the company performing the tests.
According to multiple reports, three of A&M’s future opponents have canceled days of practice due to COVID-19 outbreaks: Auburn, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The Aggies will open the season at home against Vanderbilt at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26.
LSU and Missouri also have practiced around the absence of isolated players, according to multiple reports.
In the Football Championship Subdivision, Austin Peay and Central Arkansas kicked off the 2020 season Saturday with the Bears winning 24-17 in Montgomery, Alabama. Central Arkansas reported no positive COVID-19 tests in two rounds of testing after the game, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
That game did shine a light on a problem that could arise throughout the season. All three of Austin Peay’s long snappers were unavailable for the game due to undisclosed reasons. Linebacker Cameron Miller took on the duty for the beginning of the game, issuing two bad snaps that resulted in six Central Arkansas points.
A&M has spent little time acclimating players to new positions as the coaching staff is still laying down the foundation of the system early in fall camp, Fisher said. But he added that the coaches have had several conversations about using players in different key positions should the situation arise.
“Those things are thought about and talked about even in coaches meeting,” Fisher said. “What determines if you don’t play? Those things are all still being hashed out. We still don’t know the total rules on that. What would cause a game cancellation if certain positions weren’t there? Those answers are going to be never-ending to me.”
A&M student-athlete leaders, including quarterback Kellen Mond, said early in fall camp that the players have emphasized among themselves to avoid parties and large groups outside of the football team. Linebacker Buddy Johnson said Thursday that he is not surprised his teammates have stayed committed to that cause.
“It’s very important to guys,” Johnson said. “Guys actually understand if I have to make this sacrifice in order to play, that needs to happen. Guys understand that. It’s all about guys being able to mature and handle their business collectively as a team, so we’ll be where we want to be.”