COVID-19: Pandemic Leaves Berkeley-Born  Milo Eifler Wondering if He Should Play

Milo Eifler (5) celebrates after scoring a touchdown vs. Minnesota last season.Photo by Jesse Johnson, USA Today

Jeff Faraudo

Milo Eifler was born in Berkeley, coaxed into playing football at Bishop O’Dowd High School by former Cal star Hardy Nickerson, and recruited to play for the Golden Bears.

His parents are both professors at Cal and they were at Levi’s Stadium in December when Eifler, a linebacker at Illinois, sacked quarterback Chase Garbers on Cal’s first offensive play of the Redbox Bowl.

Now, as he prepares for his senior season at Illinois, Eifler (his first name is pronounced ME-low) is grappling over whether it’s safe to play against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eifler, who began his college career at Washington before transferring two years ago, met with reporters who cover the Illini on a Zoom video call last week and expressed his uncertainty.

"If there was a vaccine, of course (I'd play). All college football players would be like, 'Put me in right now,’ ” Eifler said on the call.

But when asked directly if it’s possible he might opt against playing, he said, “I don’t know.”

Eifler spent the spring at home in the Bay Area, where the coronavirus has hit much harder than in Champaign, Illinois. Eifler also has personal access here to information that has him thinking hard about a serious set of circumstances.

Milo Eifler and his mother
Milo Eifler and mother Rachel Morello-Frosch.Photo courtesy of Illinois Athletics

His mother, Dr. Rachel Morello-Frosch, is a professor in Cal's Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and the School of Public Health. She has conducted research for 20 years in her fields.

In other words, she knows more about health issues than most of the rest of us.

“So, I’m just asking her questions and she’s telling me the real deal facts. I’m like ‘Dang, I didn’t know it was this severe,’ ” Eifler said in a story written by Matthew Stevens for Sports Illustrated’s IlliniNow.

Eifler is a significant player for the Illini, whose appearance at the Redbox Bowl was their first postseason game in six years. He started 12 games last season and had 69 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss. He is a projected starter in 2020.

And now he’s having to sort through whether it’s appropriate to play football this fall.

In that regard, you have to wonder if the only real difference between Eifler and perhaps many other players across country is the knowledge his mother has shared.

“In the back of your head, you're like, `There’s no vaccine . . . there's quarantining and after the quarantining, I guess I'm okay so I won't catch the virus again,’ “ he told reporters. “But then there's long-term effects. There's always this back and forth, you know what I'm saying?”

Making the decision tougher still, Eifler explained, is the fact that his mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. He said he wears a pink mouth guard to honor his mother and doesn’t want to imperil his family.

“Coming from the personal side, there's questions like, 'What if I catch (COVID-19) and I can't go see my parents anymore?’ “ he said. “That's kind of where I'm at right now.”

*** My conversation about Milo Eifler with IlliniNow reporter Matthew Stevens:

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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