Karl Dorrell’s long-awaited debut as head football coach of the Colorado Buffaloes is just a few days away.
That’s the plan – and the hope – anyway.
Nothing is guaranteed this year, though, as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on everybody’s schedule, in and out of sports.
“For the last seven or eight months, we have been really living day by day, given the circumstances of this pandemic and what changes are made,” Dorrell said Tuesday during a virtual press conference. “We have to do these protocols and all these things that keep going on and on and on.”
Dorrell isn’t complaining, but he knows the reality of the situation is that plans can change in an instant.
For now, even as COVID-19 cases rise around the country, CU is scheduled to host UCLA at Folsom Field on Saturday at 5 p.m. (TV: ESPN2). It will be the first weekend of games for the Pac-12, the last of the Power 5 conferences to get under way.
Dorrell and his players are eager to play, but there’s a range of emotions as they prepare.
Dorrell saw one of the nation’s best teams, Wisconsin, rout Illinois, 45-7, its opener on Oct. 23. Then, a COVID-19 outbreak caused the Badgers to cancel last week’s game against Nebraska. On Tuesday, Wisconsin canceled this week’s game against Purdue.
“They haven’t played the last couple of weeks, just being outside your bubble, so to speak,” Dorrell said.
CU’s team has been in somewhat of a bubble the past few weeks. The Buffs opened camp Oct. 9 and the entire team checked into the Millennium Harvest House hotel that night. They were there for more than three weeks, until this past Sunday, to help prevent an outbreak.
The Buffs are no longer in that bubble, however.
“We had our guys in a pretty sequestered way trying to protect ourselves to prepare for the season,” Dorrell said. “Now they’re back in their normal places to live, in terms of dorms and apartments. That’s the first thing that hit my brain was, how well can we keep ourselves healthy?”
Trying to keep college students from going out and having fun in groups during down time is “hard to do,” Dorrell admitted, but said he believes the players can do it.
“I think they understand the ramifications, given all the experience that’s out there in these cases that have come about, like at Wisconsin and Florida and some other places, that we have to really be very mindful of our actions individually, because it affects all of us, and me included,” he said.
Wisconsin is one of many teams to be impacted by COVID-19 this season. Several dozen games around the country, including Colorado State’s Oct. 24 opener against New Mexico, have been canceled or rescheduled this season.
Just before meeting with the media, Dorrell learned that Denver Broncos executives Joe Ellis and John Elway tested positive for the coronavirus.
Dorrell knows he and his staff and players aren’t immune to the virus and if they want to play, they have to stay healthy and smart about their actions.
“At some point in time, I might even come down with it, but I’m trying to be as careful as I can not to affect anybody,” he said. “We really have to live this season, even though there’s no breaks, there’s no byes, there’s no substitutes for games; we’ve got to really live it one day at a time, one week at a time to try to survive this seven-game season.”
This is a season that has already been altered twice. The original 12-game schedule was wiped out over the summer and replaced by a nine-game, conference-only slate. Then, on Aug. 11, the Pac-12 announced it would put football and all sports on hold until at least January.
On Sept. 24, the Pac-12 announced a change in plans and a return to play. With daily, rapid-results testing available, the conference decided to give this season a shot, even with a truncated schedule of only seven games.
The first of those seven games is just a few days away, and Dorrell can’t wait.
“I’m excited about getting a chance to play this year,” he said. “I think our players are, too, even with all the circumstances and ups and downs and schedule changes and cancellations all those different things that have occurred over the last seven or eight months.
“It’s just finally good to do the things that you really love to do, which is coach and play football. … We’ve all had shortcomings in some way, shape or form (because of COVID-19). I can’t really complain about any of those things and I don’t want to complain. I’ve told our players we’re not going to make any excuses.”
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