No Opt Outs For All-In Wolfpack as Preseason Camp Begins

Brett Friedlander

A growing number of college football players nationwide are deciding that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is greater than the reward of playing the 2020 season.

But while some have begun opting out rather than spending countless hours in close contact with teammates and opponents this fall, a list that includes Virginia Tech's All-ACC cornerback Caleb Farley, NC State's team was all in on Tuesday as it took the field for its first practice of preseason camp.

"These guys want in here bad right now," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said in a Zoom conference with local media following the initial workout. "They really want to play."

"It just doesn’t seem on our football team, at least not yet, to be a topic that anyone has brought up to a coach or a strength coach. If it happens, we’ll deal with it. At this point, it’s the opposite. It’s ‘Coach, let’s go.’"

That's an attitude subject to change once the excitement of being back on the field gives way to the drudgery of preseason preparations under the summer sun -- especially as the number of COVID cases continues to skyrocket nationally.

For now, though, emerging team leaders Grant Gibson and Isaiah Moore said the subject of opting out hasn't come up in any conversations they've had with their teammates thus far.

That's a stark contrast to other programs around the country, particualrly those in the Pac-12, where a group of at least a dozen players last week signed a letter to their conference threatening not to play this season if more isn't done to protect their safety.

"I haven’t heard anything about guys trying to opt out," Gibson, a junior center said during a Zoom conference with local media."I think we are all just happy to be back out there and getting the chance to play.".

"I haven’t heard anything about guys trying to opt out," Gibson, a junior center said during a Zoom conference with local media."I think we are all just happy to be back out there and getting the chance to play."

"We’ve pretty much all been on the same page about wanting to play," added junior linebacker Moore. "Of course we're all aware of what's going on in the other conferences. But as far as us, I haven’t heard any conversations about that."

One reason for that has been State's ability to prevent the kind of major COVID outbreak among its athletes that has led other schools -- including in-state rivals North Carolina and East Carolina -- to temporarily suspend organized workouts.

According to data provided by the senior associate athletic director Fred Demarest, only seven of the 595 athletes, coaches and staff members that have been tested for the coronavirus since May 29 have come back positive.

Those that do test positive are placed in isolation for 14 days.

Many of the precautions being taken to help keep those numbers low were evident on the field during the first day of practice Tuesday. Among them were the sheilds that were attached to the facemask of every players' helmet, the masks being worn by coaches and support personnel, and individual water bottles labled with individual players' names so they won't be used by others.

"We’ve probably done one of the better jobs in the country of maintaining and having control over the team in what we are doing and staying safe," junior wide receiver Thayer Thomas said.

"We’re just making safety a priority," quarterback Devin Leary added. "Whether we're walking into the Murphy Center or walking around campus, we just need to know that this pandemic is something that is occurring in the world right now and we just need to do as best as possible just to avoid it."

That won't be as easy once classes resume and the athletes currently sheltered in their bubble begin interacting with the general student population.

In anticipation of that happening, Doeren has already begun stressing to his team the importance of discipline and sacrifice both on and off the field.

"You just have to be super smart," he said. 'If you really want to have a season, you’re going to have to give up some things you normally may not have to give up. 

"We’ve talked a lot about this. Some of this is going to be challenging ... going to a party, getting in a swimming pool with a hundred people, things like that. Common sense needs to be common right now.”