Practicing during a pandemic presents challenges for Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon during their spring football game at Fifth Third Bank Stadium Friday, March 22, 2019 in Kennesaw, Ga.. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Kennesaw State coach Brian Bohannon during their spring football game at Fifth Third Bank Stadium Friday, March 22, 2019 in Kennesaw, Ga.. (JASON GETZ/SPECIAL TO THE AJC)

Kennesaw State wants to maintain a sense of normalcy during its football practices. There are precautions for the pandemic, of course, but the actual drills mostly are the same.

The team’s first five practices were defined by a balance between doing things the way it always did them and being smart, coach Brian Bohannon said Wednesday.

Each department within the team, from video to equipment, had time this fall to formulate a plan regarding a potential outbreak of COVID-19. The Big South Conference postponed its season until the spring. It was joined by most other FCS conferences.

Bohannon said everyone has to be flexible this year. The team won’t know who can play until the Friday before a game. And even then, plans might have to change. No matter how hard he tries, Bohannon said he can’t make football the same as it was.

“I watched football this fall, and it wasn’t very good,” Bohannon said. “You know what I mean? I think part of it is because it’s hard to get kids in a routine, dialed in and focused because of all the moving parts of what’s going on.

“We’re trying to do that. … We’re experiencing some (issues) right now. I’m being as transparent as I can be. It’s the reality of where it’s at. We’re going to continue to push the button, try to motivate, try to reign them in. I’m hoping when we get closer to game time that that will get a little better. But who knows. I don’t have a great, magical answer.”

The Owls are ranked No. 10 in the preseason FCS rankings and are the favorites to win the Big South. They became the first program in college football history to win 48 games in its first five years of existence, all under Bohannon.

This season will be unlike any other Bohannon has coached. On top of winning, he has to worry about testing, contact tracing and limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

The calendar change also means that practices are colder than usual. Temperatures have been in the 40s for the past week. Bohannon said the cold hasn’t had an impact on the team.

But the uncontrollable circumstances regarding the pandemic have done some damage. After the second day of another lackluster practice, Bohannon addressed his players. He told them that “it is what is” and that they still have a job to do.

By the fifth day of practice Tuesday — the first in pads — the team had a better start. Then performance dipped, Bohannon said.

He has tried to establish a routine, but it’s a weird routine. Some days, players are on Zoom with their coaches. The next day, they’ll be in-person. Never before has Bohannon had to instruct his players on how to safely see their friends or girlfriends.

“We all today are learning how to put some of the things that are going on aside and finding a way to focus on the task at hand,” Bohannon said. “And just being honest, it’s a challenge right now. I told our kids, it’s an excuse-free zone.

“We can have some conversations about it, but at the end of the day, we got to go to work. We have goals and aspirations, and they’re not going to happen just because we trot out there with our gold helmet on. It’s going to take some really hard work.”