FARGO — While many college programs across the country, most at the NCAA Division II or III levels, are shutting down football for the fall, North Dakota State has entered another level of a return to play this week. The “walkthrough” phase allows the Bison coaching staff more on-field work with their players.
It’s mostly mental, but walkthroughs essentially allow the players to line up on offense and defense and go over assignments.
“Trying to emulate some formational things,” said NDSU head coach Matt Entz. “It’s a reminder for our kids to get them back into the football thought process a bit.”
It doesn’t take much to remind the Bison players and coaches what 2020 has been like. Everybody wears masks and meetings are held with social distancing in mind.
“We have put together an extensive packet about some policies and procedures that we try to follow to help mitigate the spread of the virus,” Entz said. “There are some loose ends we continue to try and tie up with the CDC (Center for Disease Control) or Cass County (Public Health). We’re moving in the right direction.”
NDSU so far has had 14 student-athletes test positive for COVID-19, a number that encompasses all sports that are going through voluntary workouts on campus this summer. An unspecified number did include members of the football team.
Still, at some point, proper social distancing will have to take a backseat when fall practice begins Aug. 6. The NCAA’s walkthrough phase will take the Bison right up until fall camp.
The fact NDSU has had its three nonconference games canceled, to this point anyway, has not altered the timeline for practice.
“We're still in the process of looking for games,” Entz said. “By no means as a conference are we not playing nonconference games. We maybe have a gentlemen's agreement with a few schools but it's too early to say anything. We have to see how it all plays out.”
NDSU’s game at Oregon and home games against Drake University (Iowa) and North Carolina A&T were canceled because each school’s conference either axed fall football or nonconference games.
North Carolina A&T, however, appears to be exploring playing as an independent — much like James Madison is doing with the Colonial Athletic Association canceling football. The website HBCU GameDay, which covers A&T’s Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, is reporting the university on Tuesday is holding an “Athletics Conference Assessment Meeting” followed by a meeting of the school’s Board of Trustees.
HBCU GameDay said inheriting the schedule of Hampton University (Va.) of the Big South Conference, which announced it is not playing this fall, may be an option.
"We're looking into that as well," said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.
Whatever the schedule holds, the Bison are set to put on pads for the first time in just nine days although the first several practices are mandatory acclimatization conditioning workouts. That mostly entails helmets and shoulder pads.
The COVID-19 shutdown in mid-March eliminated NDSU’s spring football, but Entz said he’s more concerned about his team’s frame of mind and being physically ready to play than lack of spring practices.
“They’ve done an unbelievable job,” Entz said. “We continually tell them, the teams who are the most mature are the ones that are going to be able to handle this, move forward and have success.”