As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten the 2020 college football season, Ohio State’s newly announced captains discussed new challenges that have emerged within the program as a result of the pandemic.
With mask and social distancing guidelines in effect, the Buckeyes are facing much different challenges heading into this season than they ever have before. As the season’s originally planned start date of Sept. 5 draws near, Ohio State is focusing on what they can control.
“As a team, we obviously can’t control many of the things that are going on out there,” graduate linebacker Justin Hilliard said. “We understand what we do have control in, such as we can’t have guys on our team getting coronavirus. So, we’re doing our best to social distance, wear masks, wash our hands as much as possible because we know if we do have an uptick, it could jeopardize our season.”
With attention to social distancing, junior quarterback Justin Fields and Hilliard both raised concern over the return of students to campus in mid-August. They stressed the importance of keeping the team as separate from the student body as possible, due to fears that the virus may spread to a player and, in turn, to the rest of the team.
“That’s a totally new addition, responsibility that we as leaders need to keep track of,” Hilliard said. “I think it’s important, especially now as students are coming back, that people know we can’t have that normal lifestyle.”
For the younger players on the team, the option to remain separate from the student body becomes much more difficult as they are required to live on campus.
“I think I worry about where any issues were to occur — which they won’t — is where younger guys, who are around the dorms or who are around the general population of freshmen, where they’re usually just hanging out after practice,” Hilliard said. “Obviously that won’t be a thing this year. They understand that they won’t be able to do some of the things that everyone else is usually able to do.”
Graduate linebacker and three-time captain Tuf Borland said that the typical makeup of the players’ free time will be impacted as a result of the virus. He stressed the importance of being aware of their surroundings and identifying the situations that they put themselves into.
“We need to be careful about the situations that we’re putting ourselves in and be aware of what’s going on around us,” Borland said. “I don’t know what that looks like this year, those routines haven’t really been established yet.”
Some of the Buckeye captains also have to deal with the option to opt out of the season in order to prepare for the NFL draft. Fields and junior cornerback Shaun Wade both said that they had not put any thought into opting out at this point.
Another challenge the Buckeyes have had to deal with this offseason is the lack of a fixed schedule heading into the season. Fields said that he and head coach Ryan Day had begun to watch film on their initial opponents over Zoom during the quarantine. However, with the Big Ten announcing July 9 that the season would be played amongst Big Ten members only, the Buckeyes schedule was changed.
As Ohio State still awaits the beginning of its season, Fields said that he turned his attention to improve his individual game.
“As far as myself, I’ve just been trying to improve every part of my game,” Fields said. “It’s really just going back to the basics and kind of just doing what I usually do before every season which is just getting better with the basic stuff.”
While it was an offseason of uncertainty, the newly selected captains were unanimous in their optimism that they will be able to play out the season this fall thanks to the way that the Ohio State staff handled the pandemic.
“I think my level of comfort and our safety is really high. I think there is nothing more that our coaches, trainers and staff can do to keep us safe. I mean, I can’t say enough about what they’re doing,” junior center Josh Myers said. “I’m personally confident that we’re going to have a season.”