Doeren: Players' Mental Health Important, Too

While NC State's coaches are doing all they can to protect the physical well-being of their players during the coronavirus pandemic, Dave Doeren said that watching out for their mental well-being can equally as important

A lot of attention is being paid to the physical well-being of college athletes returning to campus to prepare for what they hope will be a fall season.

And for good reason.

With the coronavirus pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, especially in areas within the ACC's geographic footprint, every precaution possible is being taken to keep the players healthy and safe.

But according to NC State football coach Dave Doeren, protecting their mental well-being is equally important during such a stressful and uncertain time in their young lives.

"I think the biggest fear for all of these guys is that it’s going to go back to how it was in March, where all of a sudden they’re on their own and everything was 'figure it out, go home,''' Doeren said during a virtual press conference after practice Wednedsay, referring to the time in which spring practice was abruptly halted. "That’s not the direction that any of us want."

It's been hard to tell what direction things might be going since the players were allowed to return to the field and begin practicing again..

The first week of preseason camp has been a bumpy ride for the Wolfpack. And not just because of that 5.1 magnitude earthquake that hit North Carolina on Sunday.

That did shake things up. And the hurricane that preceeded it a few days also dampened the players' spirits at least temporarily.

But the biggest distraction of all came during the nervous hours when it appeared as though the plug might get pulled on Wolfpack's 2020 season before it ever really got started.

Although the storm was weathered when the ACC chose not to follow the lead of the Big Ten and Pac-12, who canceled their seasons on Tuesday, there's still no guarantee they'll ever get to line up against another team this fall -- whether it's on Sept. 12 in Blacksburg or anytime else..

There are already reports floating around that the ACC is considering a move that would delay its opening games by two weeks until Sept. 26.

"We want to play," Doeren said. "We want to be around our athletes and they want to be around us. They want to train. They want to improve. They want the interaction of their teammates. 

"Where all that goes, I don’t know. All I know right now is that we’re focused on getting these guys ready for (the scheduled opener at Virginia Tech on) Sept. 12 and helping them through these ups and downs. Their mental health is critical for them to be the best version of themselves. We’ve got to be very cognizant of that."

In an effort to allay the players' fears, or at least keep them informed about the rapidly changing landscape of college sports, athletic director Boo Corrigan stopped by practice Monday morning to provide an update.

He talked to them about the ACC's intention of following through with an amended 11-game schedule, what might happen if efforts to save the season are ultimately unsuccesful and he tried his best to answer their questions.

Even though there aren't many concrete answers to be had right now.

"We all thought when our schedule came out that it was done, that we were playing and then it stopped," Doeren said. "So they’re like ‘how long are we going to wait?’ I think that’s the hardest thing for all of these young people right now. They really struggle in the unknown. tell them they are playing or tell them they are not playing. They may not like not playing, but at least they know. 

"When you are sitting there thinking you are going to play then the next day you aren’t, then you are, then you’re not. That’s hard on the mental well-being of these guys. So they just wanted to get a timeline and find out what are the meetings that are taking place, how many of these meetings are there, how long do we have to wait."

In the meantime, the players are doing what they can to make the best of a difficult situation -- especially now that classes have begun.

The one refuge they have from all the chaos and uncertainty is the hour-and-a-half they spend on the practice field among their teammates playing the game they love.

"I’ll be honest with you, this whole camp has been fun," Doeren said. "There’s just a good vibe here right now with our guys and our staff. That’s what’s making this hard for us because these guys are really enjoying it and they want to play. ... It's a release.

"Assuming we still play a month from (Saturday), we’re 30 days out. We have time. You don’t have to do this in a sprint. You have to be smart about the workload and the recovery aspect, and it’s a different camp. It’s just a much different camp. Saying ‘this is what we used to do’ is not the conversation. It’s about what is best for today. You talk to the guys, talk to the staff and everybody is on the same page."

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