West Virginia’s spring football season has been put on hold, but the team’s second year head coach is taking extra measures to keep his players accountable.
Neal Brown was looking forward to this part of the calendar. Not only would he get to see some of his newest recruits in old gold and blue for the first time, but he was eager to see any improvements made by his returners.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re missing the spring. I just thought this offseason and this spring practice was going to be critical,” he said. “I’m glad it’s not year one for us, I’ll say that as a positive — but this is the hand we’re dealt, we’re gonna move forward and make the most of it.”
The Mountaineers did get a pair of practices in before having to shut down, and he did extrapolate some important information. For one, he liked his team’s attitude and togetherness.
“I think we’re an eager group. It’s a fun group to coach,” Brown said. “Our skill level is much better than we were a year ago. I think our cohesiveness is better, and I’m not just talking about our players, I think just our staff, everything is more cohesive.”
Cohesion isn’t exactly something you can teach, and it needs to be cultivated. When the season suddenly came to a halt, that aspect of the team came under direct threat — in the matter of days, social distancing measures forced the members of a nearly-autonomous group to once again become individuals, without a timetable for when they’d get back together.
Luckily for the Mountaineers, technology is at the point where people can come together no matter their physical location, as demonstrated by Brown’s press conference held via Zoom, a video conferencing site which has gotten lots of attention in recent weeks.
After letting the team go for spring break, Brown and his staff have held two team meetings on the platform while players meet with one another in smaller accountability and position groups. They are restricted, however, to keep the conversations strictly away from football.
“It’s really just kind of check-ins every day, really encouraging our guys to get into a routine. I think that’s really important,” he said.
Without access to gyms, athletes across the globe are itching to get back into a training routine that allows them to leave their house. This applies to the Mountaineers as well, but to alleviate that itch, strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph is assigning players one of three workout programs, depending on their access.
“His focus is on conditioning right now more than anything,” Brown explained. “We know there is going to be some strength drop-off, but he’s more concerned about the running aspect of it all.”
While the loss of spring football may sting, though, the priorities of Brown and his staff are set on keeping everyone safe. At the beginning of the crisis, they did what they could to educate their players on social distancing and the rigor of the situation at large.
“I think the age group that we deal with, the 17-23 2020, probably has been the slowest as a group…to come to terms,” he said. “This is something we’ve been dealing with now, we’ve been trying to communicate with our guys probably since the beginning of March, maybe the end of February, and I think this week is when the severity of the situation is really starting to hit home.”
Moving forward, Brown says that he believes everyone will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in any number of ways. Because of that, he joins experts in asking people to stay at home.
“This is obviously a serious situation, and we can do our best work by just staying at home,” he said. “Who would have thought that you could do your best work by doing nothing?”