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First COVID-19 cases a 'wake-up call' for UVa football players, coaches

First COVID-19 cases a 'wake-up call' for UVa football players, coaches

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Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall, seen at the Sept. 26 Duke game, said Monday the coaches and players are being more vigilant after the first instances of COVID-19 on the team last week. Seven players tested positive.

Bronco Mendenhall might have guessed that his Virginia football team would struggle to remain undefeated against the coronavirus.

The Cavaliers, who had taken pride in their success in avoiding the pandemic, announced shortly before Saturday night’s game at Clemson that seven players and an assistant coach had tested positive for COVID-19.

“We went so long without a positive test that we possibly considered that it wasn’t going to affect our program, that somehow we were the team it wasn’t going to hit,” Mendenhall said on a Zoom call with reporters Monday.

“With last week’s testing, sure enough, there were some positives and all of us are tightening down our masks and spacing out a little more. I wish I had a better phrase: a wake-up call of just how random it can happen.”

The anticipated starting lineup remained intact.

“Testing positive is one thing,” Mendenhall said, “but you can lose significantly more players through contact tracing. I’m looking hard at putting new practices in place.

“The thought that it could or will happen again, I would say, is likely when you have so many people doing the same thing daily and having the contact we are.”

Yet, while other teams were losing players and rescheduling games, Virginia seemed to have everything under control.

“It’s hard to have the right words,” Mendenhall said. “We’ve gone from cheering after every test from early July and it was late in the week [when] I announced to the team that we had a number of tests and there was, like, silence.

“It felt funny saying it and the team looked like, ‘Wait, did he just say that we had some positives?’ And then no one knew quite what to do. During the meeting, stools started moving farther away from teammates.

“It’s heightened awareness, for sure, for all of us. I don’t know if I’m next.”

Players’ meals are of a grab-and-go variety and new protocols are being added this week.

“Still, what I don’t know is, anyone who tested positive, how did they get it?” Mendenhall said. “Until they know that, it’s hard to target what exactly to do about it. I feel vulnerable, which is maybe just how this works.”

Virginia had gone so long without any COVID-19 cases that the UVa players had gone through their protocols and could concentrate on other football-related matters leading into a matchup with reigning ACC champion Clemson.

“It was definitely kind of a shock,” veteran offensive lineman Dillon Rinkensmeyer said. “Not having any positive cases for so long, you kind of feel like you’re [invincible] but you realize this virus doesn’t have favorites and we have to be on our game every week.”

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Doug Doughty is in his 44th year at the Roanoke Times, having produced an estimated 10,000 by-lines, a majority of them on University of Virginia athletics.

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