Texas football coach Tom Herman speaks to his players at the end of a team march to the Capitol on June 4, 2020, to protest the killing of George Floyd. [JAY JANNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Texas will start voluntary workouts next week, but first, how are those COVID tests looking?

Two Longhorns have tested positive while a third had the antibodies as more players are expected back this weekend

Posted June 11th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • “From everything that our medical team has told us” the two infected players did not contract the virus last Thursday.
  • “There's a lot of ideas out there, but on June 11, we don't know,” Herman said.
  • Caden Sterns, Sam Ehlinger also reflect on last week's march to the State Capitol.

As it turns out, this is not Tom Herman’s first pandemic.

“Eleven years ago, we went through H1N1,” the Texas coach said Thursday. “I was at Iowa State and we traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, and we had to play Ndamukong Suh with like nine starters out.”

Oh dear.

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“We flew them on separate planes, we had them quarantined in different hotel rooms and couldn’t get anybody’s fever to break by by Saturday,” said Herman, who was the Cyclones’ offensive coordinator in 2009.

The end result? Iowa State won 9-7. In Lincoln, no less.

Now at Texas, Herman oversees a program making its way through the coronavirus pandemic. The school announced that two players tested positive and have gone into 14-day isolation. A third player tested positive for antibodies, an indication the player had the virus and recovered.

Herman said “from everything that our medical team has told us” the two infected players did not contract the virus last Thursday as several Horns marched to the State Capitol. Too much time passed before the positive test, team doctors are telling the coach.

The first player started having symptoms on Sunday, Herman said, more than 48 hours after the march. Another player showed symptoms on Tuesday.

As for the player with antibodies, Herman said that player will undergo extensive blood work to see if there are any lingering effects.

“I was hoping that my antibody tests would come back and say that I had the antibodies and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger said Thursday. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the case.”

The Longhorns are scheduled to restart voluntary offseason workouts at UT facilities on Monday. More players are coming back to Austin this weekend and must go through an onboarding process, which includes coronavirus testing. UT issued the players a 19-page manual on the new procedures and regulations.

Herman stressed that UT strength coach Yancy McKnight will oversee the workouts next week. “We’re still not allowed as coaches to even be present at those workouts,” Herman said.

Even though UT canceled spring football, Herman and his coaches must still wait to get on the field with the Horns. It is summertime, after all. The NCAA and conference offices are still mapping out a schedule whereby teams could start fall practice possibly in late July.

Idle time can be dangerous, especially for coaches. For those who plan everything down to the millisecond, an inflexible group must be pliable going forward. What happens if a group of players test positive before the season opener? What if there are groups of players? Or, what if players test positive in the middle of the season?

Asked about worst-case scenario planning, Herman laughed and said, “I have no earthly idea. Seriously, I’m not trying to be a smart-aleck. I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Herman then took a page from Chris Del Conte’s playbook. The Texas athletic director has said for weeks that what medical professionals know here in June will be different in July and different in August. Herman reiterated that point on Thursday.

“I know that the biggest mitigation strategy and most effective mitigation strategy that we have right now is educating our players,” Herman said. “And we have one week as coaches need to be great role models of wearing masks, being socially distant and washing our hands and washing our mask every time we use them and all of those things.”

Maybe quarantine is the answer.

“I saw an article where (Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach) Bruce Arians talked about quarantining his quarterback for the entire season. That’s something that certainly has crossed my mind as well,” Herman said.

Hearing that, Ehlinger’s eyes widened on Zoom. “There’s a lot of ideas out there, but on June 11, we don’t know,” Herman said.

On other matters, Herman was more concrete. Asked about last week’s player march, Herman said his team “is committed to making sure that is not — NOT — the last time you see Texas football out on the forefront of changing the landscape.”

Safety Caden Sterns spoke on the Capitol grounds last week and was asked to expound on his comments Thursday.

“It starts with self-reflecting and checking yourself, really,” Sterns said. “Do I have any hate in my heart? And if you do, then get it out and have conversations. Be open-minded and open your heart. Because, again, nothing’s going to be done if there’s no unity and understanding one another regardless of, color, religion, whatever background, wherever you come from.”

Texas football player Caden Sterns hugs head coach Tom Herman at the end of a team march to the State Capitol last Thursday to protest the killing of George Floyd. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Said Ehlinger: “I suggest that anyone who hasn’t been able to participate in a protest or a walk takes a knee or lays down for nine minutes, and really think about how long that time period is because that’s how long that George Floyd was was on the ground …”

On the injury front, Herman said safety B.J. Foster suffered a fractured bone in his hand over an incident in a parking lot. Apparently, someone hit Foster’s car and did not leave a note, Herman said. Foster whacked the car bumper, the coach said. It did not give way, apparently.

Herman said Ehlinger (rib) and slot receiver Jordan Whittington (hernia) were fine.

Broken bones, sprains and strains are typical around a football team. But this COVID-19 is something else entirely.

“When someone does test positive, we are making sure that that young man or staff member is you know dotting every I and cross every T in terms of the return to activity protocols that have been set in place,” Herman said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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