Georgia Tech is preparing for Phase I of athletics returning to campus on Monday, June 15th. In Phase I, student-athletes local to the Atlanta area will be permitted to participate in voluntary activities, such as weight rooms and training areas. Prior to returning, all student-athletes will be tested for COVID-19.
Head football coach Geoff Collins has remained in constant communication with his players since all collegiate athletic activities were suspended across the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. Through zoom meetings, online programs and social media, Collins has continually prepared his team for the 2020 season.
"We have a great leadership group on our football team that is really affecting the other guys," Collins told media last week. "It's one of those things, it's trust, its faith, it's hope, and you try to motivate, inspire and engage the guys on an individual basis and a collective basis without making it mandatory."
In years past, a large portion of college football programs would start fall camp in late-July and early-August - ideally for four weeks. Additionally, student-athletes would prep for the upcoming season with conditioning programs that begin in the summer months for nine consecutive weeks. With the pandemic, many questions have been raised regarding the time allotted for college football players to prepare for this year's season.
Although it's expected the NCAA will approve a six-week preseason practice plan, Collins said he would still be comfortable with a regular four week training period thanks in part to his previous coaching experience.
"I was blessed early on my career," said Collins. "I was a high school coach, was a I-AA non-scholarship coach, was a Division III coach, was a I-AA coach again. At those places, you don't have summer work out programs. They show up, day one of preseason camp. At the Division III level, we didn't even have spring football. I've been around programs, I have not been a Power 5 Division I coach my entire career. I think that affords me and gives me an edge to understand there are ways to do it."
Despite the circumstances, Collins has used Zoom to his advantage. He plans to continue using it in the month of June to get his players ready. According to Collins, he and his staff are using data to help execute plans before and after his team returns.
For Phase I, freshman student-athletes are not able to participate in volunteer athletic activities. Aside from the eight freshman football signees that enrolled in January, the remaining freshman from the 2019 recruiting class participated in an introduction program to Georgia Tech earlier this month. Collins stated that since their introduction, he's held team meetings involving his freshman players as if in a real setting.
"We split it up offensively and defensively," Collins said. "We had an offensive signee meeting and went through everything. All the protocols, all the standards, the cultural things. All of the things we do while we're in classroom... Then we did the same thing for the defensive signees. Now, they're allowed to hop in on the zoom meetings and the virtual meetings with their position coaches. They get the workouts from Coach Lew."
The NCAA approved voluntary athletic activities to begin as early as June 1. Collins said the later start date for Georgia Tech was to help prioritize the health and safety of their student-athletes.
"It was very intentional that we were going to return June 15th," said Collins. "It might be a little bit later than some other places. We want to make sure that all our processes were in place. We had all the data to ensure that when our guys return that we have the best chance to be successful and to keep our guys healthy and safe even from the very start... Then once they're here, following the steps by our medical professionals at a very high level. Then when they leave the facility each day, to make sure that the guidelines and the safe guards are put in place. That people have really taken a lot of time to ensure their health and safety.
"There'll be a two week period with the Phase I guys so we can get all of the things perfected that we need to do once we get a larger proportion of our team back in that Phase II."
Collins said he expects the number of football players returning for Phase I to be in the low twenties. Georgia Tech expects approximately 75 student-athletes (across all sports) to take part in on-campus voluntary activities.
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