If the Tennessee Vols are able to play all 10 games on their schedule this fall, the 2020 season will be a win — regardless of what the final record says.
Playing college football in the midst of a pandemic is a strange thing. Any game can be canceled at a moment’s notice (as we saw with Florida and LSU this week). Teams can go from navigating COVID-19 with very few issues to dealing with a full-blown outbreak at the snap of a finger.
So far, Tennessee’s been able to get through the regular season without any issues.
Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said on Wednesday, during a virtual media session with reporters, that UT hasn’t had a positive test in “about three weeks”. That’s obviously great to hear, but Pruitt acknowledged that not having a positive test over the last three weeks doesn’t mean Tennessee has “beat” COVID-19.
“It can change in one day,” said Pruitt. “I think our players and our staff and everyone in our program is working hard to follow the CDC guidelines and wear your mask.”
One aspect of the coronavirus pandemic that nearly everyone’s had to deal with at some point is the anxiety caused by the outbreak. Whether it’s anxiety over catching the virus, or anxiety caused by the uncertainity of the pandemic, it’s something that’s affected a lot of folks.
For college football players, there’s added anxiety when it comes to whether or not they’re going to play each week. Most Americans are only getting tested if they’re sick/experiencing symptoms. Football players, however, are getting tested multiple times a week. There’s certainly anxiety with every pending test. A player’s status for a game can change immediately if one of the tests comes back positive.
“The reality of it is, we take a test tomorrow, which will be our third one of the week, and the kids work really hard to get prepared all during the week,” explained Pruitt. “But until that third test comes back negative, these guys don’t know if they’re going to be able to play or not. There’s just a lot of anxiety, not only through our program but every program. It’s something that we understand.”
Pruitt is not only keeping his guard up against the spread of COVID-19, but he’s also making sure his players know they have an outlet for the anxiety they may be feeling.
“Coach Pruitt definitely has hit on mental health, especially with what’s going on right now,” said Vols wide receiver Brandon Johnson this week. “There’s a lot going on in our country right now with COVID-19 and social injustice issues.”
“He’s told us often that he’s available to us. If we need anything, if we feel like things aren’t right mentally, we have an outlet and we have people to go to and talk to. Coach Pruitt has definitely made than an emphasis. He let us know that he’s here for us.”
I don’t know what the Vols’ final record will be this season. Eventually, Pruitt will be judged solely on wins and losses again.
But for this unusual season, I think Tennessee fans should be proud of the coach leading their program regardless of the final record. Pruitt is handling coaching in a pandemic as well as any coach in the nation.
And that’s not something that should go unnoticed.
Featured image via © Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports/Tennessee Athletic Communications