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COVID-19 turns Tech preseason to ‘NASCAR chess match’

Wednesday, August 19, 2020
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Leader photos by T. SCOTT BOATRIGHT

Louisiana Tech quarterback Westin Elliott (10) fires a pass downfield during Tuesday morning’s practice for the Bulldogs.

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Tech junior college tranfser running back Greg Garner blasts through a big hole in the Bulldogs’ defense he found during Tuesday’s workout.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a gamechanger for college football since Day One in early spring.

It caused the cancellation of spring football practices. It has slowed and hampered preseason workouts.

Following Tuesday’s practice for his Bulldogs, Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz talked about the way it has changed his team’s entire approach toward handling the upcoming season, turning it into a chess match-like car race in which Holtz is more concerned with how his team finishes than starts. “We had 50 guys re

“We had 50 guys report in June and had a handful of positives as they were coming from home,” Holtz said. “We had guys report in July and had a handful of positives. Then last week the rest of the team reported for camp and we had a handful of positives. These guys are being tested every week and it proves to me that this is where these guys are the safest — around others being tested and doing what we’re doing.

“Now it’s about seeing what the new norm looks like as far as how we practice. Some of the things we’ve done in the past we can’t do anymore, but we still have to get our football ready. We’ve changed the way we practice to acknowledge how the conditioning isn’t at the same level as it’s been in previous seasons. If we pushed as hard as we have in the past at this point I think that we’d have a lot of soft tissue injuries. We’ll continue running during camp, which we haven’t before.” Holtz said maybe the

Holtz said maybe the biggest challenges are all the unknowns that remain surrounding the pandemic.

“This thing (COVID-19) is a constantlychanging curveball, and I think it’s the people who do the best in adapting to that will be the ones to come out the best,” Holtz said. “The worst thing anyone could do right now is stand at a podium and say they’ve got their hands around this thing right now. None of us do.”

Holtz admitted he hopes lessons learned during summer training sessions will translate to how his players handle the start of instruction for Tech’s 2020 fall quarter.

“There will be some virtual and some live classes if the university is holding those,” Holtz said. “One question we get is how will you protect your players? We can protect those players by educating them on how to protect themselves. We can’t be with 120 guys 24 hours a day. We can’t always be a dorm room and tell them, ‘hey, we have six guys in here and need to spread out.’ We can’t be with them 24 hours a day but we can teach them how they need to act in order to try and stay safe 24 hours a day — teach them the social responsibility that they need.

“We’re all learning. I think at the beginning they wore their masks because we asked them to. Now I’m seeing them wear masks with nobody saying anything to them. They’re starting to understand that they don’t want to be a guy who misses 14 days because they didn’t have a mask on.”

Holtz said that safety precautions have definitely changed things on the practice field.

“We may not get the quality of work — the numbers — that we’d like to,” he said. “We might not get 40 plays of (passing skeleton drills) per day — our numbers are down a little bit. You may not get 30 reps with the team every day.

“You don’t want them together too long, so you want to come in, do some work and get away from each other. Six plays and on to the next drill. But that will add a weighted value to every rep a player gets, because there won’t be 700 throws to make evaluations from. We’ll have to make that evaluation now from 250 throws. That’s why it’s important for everyone to be focused and dialed in every time we get up on that field.”

Those kinds of changes have turned college football into a chess match of sorts more than ever. But Holtz said that match is more internal in figuring how to handle preparation for the upcoming season.

“The chess match is how do you pull off camp?” Holtz said. “What’s the right way to do it? I don’t know. You can err on the side of doing too much and getting those soft tissue injuries we always worry about. It’s an internal chess match of how every team does in hitting that curveball and making the adjustments needed. We might err to the side of pushing our defense to the edge of where we need to in order to get more reps, where if we had a more experienced defense I might err on the side of not as many reps.

“I think right now it will be about who does the best job of driving their car. We all have the same situations. Everybody’s got the same circumstances and challenges of how to go through camp in a COVID situation. This year football teams are like NASCAR — everybody’s got the same sized engine. It’s just going to be who does the best job of driving it that week. Now we all have to modify things the best we can to drive the car we have.”