FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas and most other Power 5 schools will start practicing on Friday and excitement is in the air as well as caution.
Arkansas has done a good job of controlling a possible COVID-19 outbreak among the football team, but that was before the entire team practiced together. That will all change on Friday.
Hunter Yurachek, Arkansas’ vice-chancellor and director of athletics, has said there was fewer than 10 student-athletes and two staff members have tested positive to this point. All recovered and are back with only two athletes in quarantine at this time. The entire team was tested last week with no positives.
Yurachek was asked about a possible outbreak and how that would effect things.
“Well, we’re getting ready to find that out,” Yurachek said. “I think that September 26 date will also provide us time to figure that piece of it out. We don’t know, because nobody has practiced football that way. Not in the NFL, not in college football, not in high school football. So we’re going to learn a lot over the next couple of weeks as we begin to practice.”
Yurachek credited head football coach Sam Pittman for the Razorbacks avoiding the big spikes seen at some other SEC schools particularly early on.
“I think the way we’re practicing and the way we meet and some of the things that we have changed within our football facility have worked very, very well,” Yurachek said. “I think he’ll continue to do many of those same things as we get into practice really ramping up here in the next couple of weeks.”
Yurachek feels schools including Arkansas have adjusted well from when student-athletes reported in June to now.
“Absolutely,” Yurachek said. “I think we have adjusted and I think our student-athletes have adjusted as well. Our student-athletes are having to make some very difficult personal decision that most college students don’t want to make. I mean, we all remember our college experiences, and [they’re) some of the best four years of our lives. Our college students, they want to be out with fellow college students on Dickson Street enjoying what that has to offer. They’re having to make difficult decisions and difficult sacrifices to make sure that we have a football season and a soccer season and a volleyball season and men’s and women’s basketball season.
“I’m so proud of our student-athletes and how they have changed what they’re doing in their personal lives and how they’re making much better decisions, and I think that’s what you’re seeing more than anything across the country, is young men and women making really good choices because they want to play their sports this fall, this winter and next spring.”
Some athletes are opting out around the nation, but to this point Yurachek said no one with the Hogs have done so. The season will start on Saturday, Sept. 26, so the Razorbacks will have extra time to prepare for the season. That comes at a good time since they had no spring practices.
“It’s huge, it really is,” Yurachek said. “We can really take what we missed in the spring and funnel that in the next three or four weeks and allow Sam and his staff to not feel so rushed to put so many things in if we were going to start on September 5. This is really a blessing for our football program, having a new staff, for Sam and his staff to take their time putting their systems in and evaluating their players on the field.”
Arkansas will host Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and one other school from the SEC East this season in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. They will play at Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State and likely Missouri in Columbia plus one more school from the East.
The Razorbacks have a completely new staff other than Justin Stepp who returned to coach the wide receivers.