The Wyoming Cowboys returned to practice this week following a three-day pause in practice due to 11 freshman football players testing positive for the COVID-19 virus late last week. Those eleven cases
of COVID-19 and close contacts among the University of Wyoming’s freshman football players prompted the university to take action on Friday, Oct. 2 to limit the spread of the virus in that group of students, employees and the broader community. The positive cases involving freshman football players were detected late last week in UW’s bridge testing program through Vault Health.
The Cowboys did not practice last Thursday, Friday and Saturday leading up to the pause put in place by the university on Friday. All football team members were tested last Friday morning, Oct. 2. Upon receiving the results of those tests over the weekend, only freshman football players tested positive for the virus, allowing the rest of the team to resume practice on Sunday, Oct. 4.
Due to the positive cases, the 31 freshman players will not engage in any athletic activities — including practice, workouts and in-person meetings — and the members are encouraged to shelter in place, where possible, for one week. Limited contact is a critical component to the shelter in place. During this time, team members will attend classes virtually.
While UW’s freshmen had been practicing with their football teammates prior to last Thursday, the freshman locker rooms are separate. And the freshmen all live in UW’s residence halls, not with teammates in off-campus dwellings. Still, out of an abundance of caution, UW’s football team did not practice until the additional test results were received over the weekend.
“We are hopeful that these actions will limit the spread of the virus to the freshman football team members and that the rest of the team can resume its preparations for the shortened season that begins Oct. 24,” Athletics Director Tom Burman said. “We have been fortunate to have very little COVID prevalence among our football team until now, in part because of our rigorous testing program that began in the summer. Our ability to move forward with our shortened season depends upon limiting the infection, and we’re taking all appropriate steps to do so, including the aggressive testing program adopted by the Mountain West Conference.”
The actions were taken in accordance with UW’s newly updated COVID-19 indicators and tactics for Phase 3 of the university’s fall return plan. These allow for UW to respond quickly to outbreaks of the virus in certain programs and facilities at the university with targeted interventions to limit the spread of the virus.
This Week’s Practices
Sunday’s practice was a full-padded practice. Monday’s practice was in half pads. Cowboy head coach Craig Bohl spoke with media via Zoom following Monday evening’s practice.
“It was another good day. We worked with shoulder pads today, we didn’t have lowers on but we were in full pads yesterday,” said Bohl. “We emphasized third downs this afternoon, and I thought we got some good plays in there both on offense and defense. I thought X (Xazavian Valladay) ran the ball really well today. Good competition going on at the quarterback spot. Victor Jones continues to make some really nice plays on the inside (of the defensive line), so we’re well pleased with that.”
When asked if there were any new players who had tested positive after last Friday’s testing, Bohl responded.
“I think there was one freshman who tested positive the next day, and we quarantined all those freshmen before we moved forward (practicing) with the upperclassmen,” said Bohl. “Surprisingly, I think our guys are doing really well. We’ve not double repped like we normally would. Our upperclassmen are getting a lot of work, so we’re making good progress there. Where we’re not making progress is those freshmen aren’t getting a chance to learn, but we’re looking forward to getting them back soon.”
“We’ve had really good compliance (among our players), but what we’re seeing all across the country are the challenges. I think we have guys who are being really vigilant, hopefully we’re not going to have any more positive cases.”
With the release of the 2020 football schedule late last week, Bohl was asked his feelings about some teams in the league playing eight conference games while others are playing seven due to a few non-conference matchups some MW schools had already scheduled.
“I had a really frank conversation with Commissioner (Craig) Thompson that this year is going to be a different year and we’re going to celebrate that we’re playing football whatever schedule we get,” said Bohl. “We’re excited about the games that we have. I trust our conference office, and we’re going to move forward.”
Regarding injuries, the head coach was asked about offensive tackle Alonzo Velazquez, who Bohl announced last week had torn a labrum in his shoulder, and whether Velazquez’s injury would be a season-ending one.
“It will depend on how deep we play into December,” said Bohl. “His injury is going to take him to pretty deep into December (before he would likely be recovered). But what is unique this year is no one loses a year of eligibility even if they play in only one game, so it wouldn’t be like he burned a year of eligibility if he came back toward the end of the season. We hope to have him back.”
Bohl was asked what he’s seen from his team thus far in fall camp and if, like last year, he has seen some new players step up their performances this fall.
“Every year is a new year, but thus far we’re seeing some really positive signs,” said Bohl. “I’m pleased with how the coaches have responded and how the players have responded to the coaches. That is an indication of good culture in the locker room.”
With the practice schedule being interrupted this past week, the head coach was asked how his staff has had to adjust its practice plan and whether he plans to incorporate the same amount of contact practices this fall that he would in a normal fall camp.
“When we missed a couple practices, we had to adjust, but we’ll probably do the same amount of padded work,” said Bohl. “The repetitions are going to be very close to what we would normally do. Where the drop off is going to be is the depth provided by the freshmen who we are normally able to give some reps to during fall camp. We usually find a couple players in that freshman group, so we’re going to have to be a little quicker on our evaluation when they do come back. Outside of that, we’re going to have a scrimmage this Saturday and we’ll be looking to incorporate the same building blocks that we normally do in fall camp.”
Quotes from Junior Running Back Xazavian Valladay
Valladay also spoke with media via Zoom on Monday night. He was asked how it is to be back in the swing of things after experiencing an unusual fall practice schedule?
“It feels really good to be back, but it has been a little strange with our freshmen being in quarantine. We just to have to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” said Valladay. “I’m glad we have depth at running back this year because if one guy goes down we have others who can also get the job done.
Valladay was asked what it is like to compete against the other running backs on the Cowboy team in what is one of the deepest positions on this year’s roster.
“I can say this about everyone in our running back group — the competition between us is something that makes us all better,” said Valladay. “We critique each other when we watch tape with the idea of trying to make each other better. Off the field, we’re all brothers. It doesn’t matter who is on top of the depth chart or who is on the bottom. We just wait on our number to be called, and believe in Coach Bohl and his plan.”
How have the veterans on the team tried to communicate with the freshmen about how important it is to abide by the rules established for them during the Coronavirus era?
“Any time we get a group of young guys coming in, we try to show them the ropes of what not to do and what to expect, how to go about certain things,” said Valladay. “But everybody makes mistakes and we don’t hold it against the freshmen because we know everyone makes mistakes. We try to preach that whatever Coach Bohl says that is what he means. It’s always about doing things the Cowboy way and putting the team first.”
2020 Football Schedule
The Mountain West released the 2020 football schedule for all conference teams last Thursday, Oct. 1. Wyoming’s season will kick off on the road at Nevada on Saturday, Oct. 24. The season opener will feature two teams that appeared in postseason play last season. Wyoming of course captured the 2019 NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl, defeating Georgia State, 38-17, and finished with an 8-5 overall record. Nevada played in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, losing a close game to Ohio by a score of 30-21, and concluded the season with a 7-6 record.
The following week on Halloween, the Pokes will host the first of four home games versus the Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors, who won the MW West Division in 2019 and defeated BYU, 38-34, in the SoFi Hawai’i Bowl. Hawai’i posted an overall record of 10-5 in 2019.
A total of 7,000 fans will be allowed to attend Wyoming’s home opener vs. Hawai’i on Oct. 31. All tickets to this year’s game will be sold on a single-game basis, with season-ticket holders receiving priority to purchase tickets based on their priority points. There will also be an allotment of tickets out of the 7,000 total tickets reserved for UW students.