As football season inches toward brink, Penn State believes it's doing its part to play

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
Penn State

The college football world is absorbing a flurry of body blows in regards to the chances of staging a representative 2020 season.

Wednesday, it was the Ivy League postponing its entire fall sports season, and Ohio State and North Carolina — a pair of marquee athletics programs — shutting down workouts after a flurry of positive covid-19 tests.

Late Thursday morning, word came the ACC was bumping back the calendar on fall sports. A few hours later, a bombshell: The Big Ten won’t play any nonconference games this season.

Things are trending in the wrong direction, and pessimism abounds concerning the prospects of college football in 2020.

But from inside the bubble that is State College, you wouldn’t know that. Last week, athletic director Sandy Barbour said zero of the 102 athletes who’d been tested on campus — including the majority of the football team — came up positive for the novel coronavirus. And according to players who have spoken to the media this week via video call, Penn State so far has kept covid-19 at bay.

The feeling among the Nittany Lions is akin to: If we don’t play football this fall, don’t blame us.

“Here at Penn State, we are going a great job and our staff is doing a great job of keeping us safe,” junior safety Jonathan Sutherland said Thursday.

“All the players are really on the same page. But as far as playing football, we can take care of our end but at the end of the day as far as playing other people we can’t control what other people do. We can keep ourselves safe but at the end of the day our concern comes in because we can’t control what our competitors are doing.”

At least five of the seven remaining PSU football opponents whose athletic departments are reporting covid-19 test results have acknowledged positive tests. Penn State likely benefits from its remote locale without a major city (and the accompanying large groups of people) nearby. But it also seems clear Nittany Lions players are attempting to do their part.

“From a team perspective, I think everyone as a whole knows — and Coach (James) Franklin has emphasized time and time again — that it’s important to be accountable,” sophomore tight end Zack Kuntz said Wednesday.

“We fill out a survey every single day (about) if we have any kind of symptoms or if we travel outside State College. We’re all taking the necessary precautions. We’re all abiding by the rules we need to so that we can have a season this year.”

Many Penn State football players returned to campus early last month, with others arriving on campus in recent weeks. They are permitted to do voluntary workouts under the guidance of strength-and-conditioning staff. The Lasch Building football facility is open, but only to a limited number of players at a time and with several modifications such as dedicated entrances and exits.

Players are split into small groupings with roommates and others. Some players take it upon themselves to work on fields off campus.

“With all the (training) time that we lost, we’ve been doing a lot of running and lifting,” Sutherland said. “We typically go in and lift and go on a nice little run whether it’s for agility or straight-line speed, and there’s always conditioning at the end, too. (The performance staff) has been pushing us in that aspect.”

Sutherland maintains that even after the loss of spring football, he and his teammates can be ready for a season after six weeks of camp that follows their 3-4 weeks of campus workouts.

For that season to happen, Penn State’s players know they need to do their part in regards to social distancing and wearing masks and washing hands, etc.

“If you want to have a season … you have to take that seriously,” Kuntz said. “We don’t take it lightly. All it takes is one person (not abiding by guidelines), and it can spread like wildfire. I think all Penn State athletes are doing a great job preventing that.”