After spending months off campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Carolina football team is back in Chapel Hill.
UNC’s coaches and staff, along with the first group of players, came back to campus on June 12 and underwent coronavirus testing before voluntary workouts and player-led practices began on Monday. The remainder of the team will return to campus in segments on June 19, 26 and 29.
Head coach Mack Brown and quarterback Sam Howell held a press conference Thursday to answer questions following the Tar Heels’ first week back on campus.
Brown said his coaching staff has been happy with the Tar Heels’ progress in their first week, despite missing out on spring practices and dealing with an absence of in-person workouts since March.
“(Strength and conditioning coach) Brian Hess told us that he thought the guys were in really good shape, and that’s a real credit to them,” Brown said. “They’ve had to be accountable, they’ve had to be disciplined while they were at home — a lot of them don’t even have workout areas.”
Howell — a 2019 first-year All-American — said he used the time off as an opportunity to improve his skill set entering his second season in Chapel Hill, despite lacking access to a traditional weight room.
“For me it was easy, just because I love working out, I love trying to perfect my craft,” Howell said. “I really had a lot more time than I usually have so I tried to make the most of it.”
Brown explained the social distancing measures the coaching staff has taken, saying they have distinguished between essential and non-essential staff members. Essential members work in the football offices from Tuesday to Thursday, and non-essential members work from home. He said he has encouraged players to remain socially distanced outside of workouts.
“We’re learning, we’re learning how to stay safe,” Brown said. “The first group of players that have come in are going to be the ones that teach the next group how to make sure that they go by the guidelines.”
“We’ve told the players, it’s not only for your protection, but if you want to play, even if you don’t have the virus and you’ve been too close to someone who does, then you can be quarantined."
Both Central Florida and Auburn — UNC’s first two opponents in the upcoming season — had three players test positive for COVID-19 when they returned for voluntary workouts. UNC announced it will not be releasing any information on COVID-19 testing for players.
“We have not had any concerns from players or parents,” Brown said. “We’ve told the players that it’s going to be safe as long as you do what you’re supposed to do, but we’ve got to go by the guidelines.”
Despite wanting to get back on the field in August, Howell said his main goal is to stay healthy so that he and his teammates avoid testing positive for COVID-19.
“Obviously everyone wants to play football, but at the end of the day we’ve just got to do things the right way,” Howell said. “We really just have to be responsible with it and know that we could really get it any time and spread it to our teammates. We’ve just got to keep the main thing and that’s making sure everyone’s staying safe.”
Jared McMasters contributed reporting.
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