UTEP Football Kicks Off Practice Despite Two Additional Positive Cases of COVID-19
UTEP football kicked off their fall camp Sunday morning, despite two additional positive COVID-19 cases after four positive last week, in anticipation for an accelerated three-week practice schedule prior to the start of the season.
The Miners were supposed to start practice on Saturday but didn't have results from the second round of COVID-19 testing available. Sunday was the third rescheduling for the start of fall camp in a week.
"We feel like we've provided a very safe environment for them," said third-year head coach Dana Dimel after practice. "We're going to test them every week. We'll have another test on either Wednesday or Thursday of this week. It will be every Wednesday after that and might accelerate as we move forward and definitely before we play the Texas game. We feel like we're in the safest environment for these guys. We get worried when they get out in the community and out and about with people that haven't gotten tested and people that aren't practicing social distancing."
Aside from the six were tested positive for COVID-19—all who are asymptomatic, according to UTEP—the Miners were missing several other players at practice. The Miners were missing three tailbacks, including their presumed starter Quardraiz Wadley. They ran with two quarterbacks today in Gavin Hardison and Calvin Brownholtz, as TJ Goodwin was out and will rejoin the team on Monday. A key defensive lineman and offensive lineman are undergoing a quarantine period too, according to Dimel. He expects to have several players, such as Wadley, back by tomorrow.
"The thing that gets you is the roommate's contact tracing," explained Dimel. "You could have one guy and they could have two or three roommates. The roommates aren't able to practice since they haven't gotten the test back. It should all be resolved soon."
But time is ticking for the Miners. The team is still preparing for a Sept. 5 start, supposing they are able to schedule another opponent. As it stands, they are set to open the season on the road against Texas (Sept. 12). That leaves UTEP less than three weeks to be ready for the season.
"We thought we were ahead of the curve where we were in comparison to where other people were because of the different parameters that we were put under," Dimel said. "Missing last week was a really, really tough thing.
"You can't get everyone hurt on day one because you have less than three weeks until your first game and you got to make up for seven days of training camp that were taken from us. We've got to be really smart in what we're doing, super-efficient, spend time between practices," he continued.
Inexperience is one of the glaring factors for this young team. While they were off last week, some of their opponents, like Texas, were able to practice. Getting several of the players returning to practice tomorrow will help the situation a bit too.
"We've got a lot of new faces," Dimel said. "We're a new team. There's a new face everywhere you turn. But with newness comes inexperience and time is critical for newness. In my position, you have a new team and you're dealt with this curveball."
Another key in the accelerated fall camp will be to name starters at each position. For the quarterbacks, Hardison and Goodwin will both fight for the starting job. Dimel wants to give the top two players at each position the majority of reps.
"Been waiting for this for a long time," Hardison said about practice. "It was fun. It was great being back with everyone and getting into the swing of things. It felt like normal, just out there with the guys."
Turnovers were the big takeaway in the first practice. Defensively, standout senior safety Justin Prince was excited about the first day back and how his unit performed.
"It's been really good to be back after everything that's going on," he said. "We have to be precautions of what's going on. It was exciting. We have been waiting to start the first day of camp. We had to postpone a couple of times but us and the guys are really excited to start the season."
And finally for Dimel, even though the first day was filled with all sorts of on and off the field circumstances, he is determined to get this team ready for the season.
"For the first day, I have a lot on my mind," he said. "I don't think there's gonna be a day I'm happy right now. I don't think there's a day I'll be happy on where we are because of the intangibles. Because I'm getting my team ready for a three-week turnaround. I've done it before as a head coach... I cut my teeth getting these players ready in three weeks. But these players haven't done it. I'm not disappointed, I'm not upset. The guys worked really hard. By the middle of the week, we will probably be a lot better."