Conference calls, FaceTime calls, calls to players and staff, calls to recruits, calls with trainers, calls with families and mornings filled with film study — this is what running the Ohio State football program looks like for head coach Ryan Day during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Twice a week, Day holds a conference call with his staff to evaluate each player on academics, strength and conditioning, and football development.
He uses personal calls to direct players on how to stay in shape and continue growing in their football skills.
Day said that one minute he could be watching “Tiger King” on Netflix or perfecting his chili recipe, but if his phone rings the next minute, he doesn’t miss it.
“It’s always right there,” Day said during a teleconference call with media members Wednesday. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat down as a family to do something and the phone rings, and then I’m off and running.”
All of college football holds steady, with spring practice canceled across the country and plans for the future still uncertain. The calls Day is making now will significantly impact how well his team transitions through the COVID-19 quarantine into the 2020 football season.
“It is what it is, and it’s the same for everybody else throughout the country,” Day said. “Good news for us is, a lot of our young guys played — especially in those first 10 games — they got a lot of snaps. Some kids got over 200, 250, 300 snaps last year. Quarterback is returning. So I feel like in terms of game readiness that we do have a fairly veteran team.”
Under normal circumstances, Ohio State would have held its Pro Day Wednesday and completed its seventh spring practice Thursday.
Instead, the Buckeyes are spread across the country. Most players living in dorms have returned home, with the exception of those who applied for exemptions to stay on campus, Day said. The Woody Hayes Athletic Center is closed to all organized activity.
“At this point, guys are just at their house, doing their first week of academics,” Day said. “All of our stuff has been moved online or virtual.”
Constant interaction and communication with players and their families has been second only to personal health for the staff, he added.
Day said the team wants to maintain the structure to which players are accustomed when not under quarantine, in terms of coaching feedback, workouts, academics and meals. Instructions are individually tailored since not all players have home gyms. Some have been sent resistance bands and are running down their hometown streets for conditioning.
“We worked really hard to get ourselves in shape and ready for spring practice,” Day said. “We want to try to maintain that the best we can given the circumstances.”
There are specific positional considerations being made, too.
Two Ohio State freshmen, C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller, are both contending for the backup quarterback job behind junior Justin Fields. As early enrollees, spring practice was providing an opportunity for both to learn Ohio State’s offense and develop chemistry with its wide receivers.
“It’s unfortunate because spring practice is so important for a young quarterback,” Day said. “They do have access to our film, and we’re gonna do the best we can to make sure they have everything they can to study that stuff.”
Many players rehabbing injury have been sent instructions by head athletic trainer Shaun Barnhouse and his staff, Day said. Those still in Columbus, Ohio, have been using the Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute.
Redshirt sophomore running back Master Teague, for instance, is rehabbing an Achilles injury after having rushed for 789 yards behind J.K. Dobbins this past season. He’ll be competing for the 2020 starting role against graduate transfer Trey Sermon from Oklahoma.
“Master’s a very mature young man. He’s got his priorities straight,” Day said. “He’s gonna attack this rehab, and he’s gonna do the best he can to get back as fast as possible. He’s a little bit of a genetic freak. We’re hopeful that with our team and with his hard work and the way his genetics are, we’ll get a speedy recovery here.”
Day has also been dealing damage on the recruiting trail from his home office.
The Buckeyes landed four recruits, two of them top 100 prospects, in a three-day span from March 15-17, then added Sermon Sunday.
What allowed those verbal commitments to happen was the foundation laid by the Buckeyes with their prospects throughout the course of the past year, placing them ahead of the curve, Day said.
Day and other staffers have consistently FaceTimed with recruits since the Big Ten banned all on- and off-campus recruiting activities March 13.
“I think there’s a lot of excitement around the program and what we’re building on both sides of the ball,” Day said. “We’ve been doing this for a while now with this class. There’s been a lot built up. This is not something we just started a few months ago.”
When football does resume, Day said he thinks a structure similar to the NFL’s OTAs would be helpful, where teams can recuperate lost spring practice time with additional summer practices and camp days.