When Auburn University began fall classes on Monday, it took another step towards what is tentatively the start of football next month.
Over the past five months’ every football player and coach along with other athletes at Auburn have been practicing rigorous safety methods in order to prepare for what will for certain be the strangest season in college football history, should there be one.
In a press conference held on Monday, head coach Gus Malzahn applauded his players and staff for the work they have put in over the past five months.
“It’s been a definite learning experience for everyone,” said Malzahn. “I think it's brought us together."
Auburn football has tested players 863 times over the last five months, just over seven times per player, and has had only 33 positive results. The most recent team-wide test was conducted last week with zero positives.
“Our team came together and held each other accountable,” said Malzahn.
As Auburn begins fall camp on Monday, Malzahn said that four unnamed players will not be starting right away to finish their Covid-19 protocol. While the team has worked hard to stay healthy over the past few months, there is still the chance that at any time a player will test positive, a reality the Auburn coaches have had to prepare for. That reality might also provide freshmen or transfers the chance to see the field earlier than would be expected during normal times.
“Newcomers will have a big opportunity,” said Malzahn. “You have to have depth and you have to be flexible.”
As the Tigers have been working and preparing, they have had to do so watching other conferences cancel their seasons and with uncertainty as to whether their hard work has been in vain.
“We’ve been talking for five to six weeks about controlling what we can control. The teams that don’t get distracted are the ones who will have an advantage,” said Malzahn.
Malzahn also mentioned that he believes Auburn’s strength of schedule over the past couple of years will give them an advantage in the SEC-only format of 2020. He also spoke about his player’s desire to finally be able to play again, with some players expressing frustration at fellow students who are ignoring health guidelines in just the early few days of school.
“Because of the sacrifices the players have made, they want to play,” said Malzahn.
While the past few months have been a roller coaster of events, Malzahn said that his forced time outside of has given him the opportunity to reflect on his career and get more rest than he has in a long time.
“I think when you have this amount of time off you get back to who you are and you remember who you’re not,” said Malzahn.