The guidelines that Georgia Tech has established to avoid COVID-19 infection

Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates readies to take a snap in a summer training session July 22, 2020.
Georgia Tech quarterback Jordan Yates readies to take a snap in a summer training session July 22, 2020.

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics

Credit: Georgia Tech Athletics

There’s no telling whether giving each quarterback his own batch of balls for passing drills will enable Georgia Tech to play its season this fall. Similarly, the proliferation of social-distancing dots that are arrayed throughout the Yellow Jackets’ football offices are no guarantee against the spread of the coronavirus.

Still, as coach Geoff Collins, his staff and his team move into the second week of on-field workouts in hopes of playing this fall, their efforts to stay free of COVID-19 infection have been considerable.

“We’re trying to do everything, and every little detail that we find or every little protocol that we can improve or that we hear about, what other teams or other organizations are doing, to help the process,” Collins told the AJC. “We’re constantly researching to try to find the best ways to continue for the health, safety and well-being of our guys.”

Virtually every facet of the way the Yellow Jackets train and go about their preparations for the season has been affected. Players have been separated into cohorts of about 15 players that train together. The groups were sorted through a variety of factors, Collins said, starting with the schedules of their online classes and roommate arrangements. There were several layers to the process of grouping players together.

“There’s a whole spreadsheet – fancy symbols they use to do math and all those things – to get that part down,” he said.

For social-distancing purposes, the team’s meeting rooms have been rearranged. The offensive line meets in the room that has been the team meeting room. The wide receivers gather in the room that previously was used by the entire defense. The club lounge beneath the east stands of Bobby Dodd Stadium now serves as a meeting room for the entire defense.

Masks are required for meetings, players have assigned seats and coaches are mindful of the length of the meetings, Collins said. In fact, masks are required for anyone going into the football offices. As Collins has done with teams assembled for offseason training – when teams are awarded points for doing things such as attending the competitions of other Tech teams and docked points for poor academic performance – cohorts can be penalized if members are spotted not following proper mask protocol.

“It’s fun, but it’s serious,” Collins said. “We want to make sure that they understand that we are doing this all together, and we’re all in this together. We all affect each other and the decisions that we make, whether we’re at the facility or away from the facility, affects all of us, and the guys have embraced that.”

Training has taken on an entirely different flavor. Where practices have been chaotic and frenzied in the past, the walk-throughs that the team began last week have slowed down.

“It is borderline very calm,” Collins said.

The transitions between periods are “very measured,” Collins said, as opposed to the hurried pace that he generally has demanded from players as they shuttled from one drill to the next. When players take their water breaks, they each have their own designated water jug. The players are the only ones to open and close their own containers, and they’re filled by a trainer standing at a distance, Collins said. Before strength-and-conditioning workouts and the walk-through sessions, players’ temperatures are checked, and health surveys filled out.

For stretching, there are spots spray-painted onto the turf of the Brock Football Practice Facility, designating where players can go through stretches where they’re safely far enough away from teammates. After weight workouts, all equipment is sprayed down with electrostatic cleaning mechanisms. Access to the locker room is restricted, with each cohort using it at specific times and changing in designated areas.

The team works out in two separate walk-throughs, organized mostly by class schedule and cohort. Players stay masked even as they are lining up in formation.

“The mask piece is real,” Collins said.

During the walk-throughs, everyone at the practice wears gloves except for the quarterbacks, Collins said. Each quarterback, as noted above, has his own set of balls to throw. Every time the ball is exchanged, the ball gets wiped down with disinfectant solution.

“We’re trying to think of every precaution we can for that,” Collins said.

Tech will soon find out when, how and perhaps even if the season will take place. Several FCS leagues have canceled their seasons. This past weekend, Michigan State and Rutgers quarantined their entire teams after positive COVID-19 tests.

The ACC is expected to adopt a scheduling model in which teams play eight or 10 league games, potentially including matchups with Notre Dame, and one nonconference game. The Jackets can continue with this walk-through phase through Aug. 4, after which they can start preseason camp, four weeks before their scheduled season opener against Clemson.

“We’ve been safe at every single step of everything that we do,” Collins said, “and just really proud of our guys for being mature, understanding the situation that we’re in as a society, taking pride in how they’re going to handle it the best way, the safest way, with all the protocols that we have set in place.”

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