In his 16th season as a Division I football coach, Bronco Mendenhall has found himself in a new job.
“I’ve never run a practice structure like we’re currently running,” Mendenhall said in a Friday video conference with reporters. “There’s really nothing about our program that looks the same.
“I’ve erred really, really far on the side of caution and safety. At some point, we’ve got to add enough football to be ready to play. I’ve been holding out, to be honest, to see if we are going to play.”
It wouldn’t be too extreme to describe Mendenhall as his team’s chief medical officer as the program deals with COVID-19.
“Literally, I’m spending my entire time managing the social distance, masking and safety to play the game,” he said. “My coaches are actually coaching football.
“What I’m doing is, I’m the No. 1 virus manager on our team right now. That’s working so far. That’s not nearly as much fun, but it is working.”
The traditional coach’s whistle has been replaced by a more modern version that is activated by his thumb and never touches his mouth.
“We’re wearing the entire full-face shields,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve seen clips from other [teams’] practices, where teams have chosen not to do that, which is mind-boggling to me.
“We’re wearing the visors and the bottoms and the minute the helmet comes off, the mask comes up in one motion. There’s very little time, if any, where players aren’t covered.
“I blow the horn and everyone puts their hands up and spaces.”
The student body is in the process of reporting to the grounds in Charlottesville, which speaks to another challenge that faces the football program.
“I was visiting with our athletic director and our team leaders [Friday] and it’s a really unique position,” Mendenhall said. “I love the idea of student-athlete in that order. It’s very difficult for me to reconcile having football players on grounds and no other students on grounds.
“Now, if I look at my team and see how much they want to play and they want me to coach them and they want me to keep them safe — and I want to keep them safe — it’s really tricky.
“I’m conflicted and that’s the best way I can put it. My message to them is, they are my priority. I’ll give them the best chance to play the game and be safe.”
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!