Although UNC moved its classes online last week and rival N.C. State’s home-opener was recently pushed back two weeks, North Carolina football head coach Mack Brown said he still believes the 2020 season will happen.
“I do think, from everything I’m hearing, I’m feeling more like we’re going to play right now than ever before,” Brown said in a press conference on Wednesday. “Seeing the N.C. State game being moved is a positive that people are still trying to make this craziness work out so we can play.”
Brown revealed that junior offensive lineman Billy Ross has decided not to play during the 2020 season and will graduate and transfer, making him the fifth Tar Heel football player to opt out of the upcoming season.
“The way we understand the new (eligibility rule)...is that every player will get another year,” Brown said about the NCAA's decision to give all fall athletes extended eligibility. “So there is no redshirting, and every player on your team, it’s like this year doesn’t count.”
The Tar Heels had their first scrimmage of the season on Tuesday, and were able to get a taste of how differently game days will look this season. Logistical details, such as seating on the sidelines, will be changed. Brown said the team has done away with benches, instead opting for chairs so the players can socially distance.
Broader changes, like coaches and officials wearing masks the entire game, have been made. Players will be required to wear masks while on the sideline but can remove them once they return to the field.
“It was new and different in that you have to think about what COVID’s going to do for a ball game,” Brown said. “But at the same time, it’s still football. You get out on the field, it’s the same stuff that we’re used to.”
After the practice session, coaches went through the tape of the scrimmage to see if players were socially distancing themselves on the sideline.
“A couple of times during the scrimmage, I have a mic on during the scrimmage, I said ‘Hey, get your mask up. Come on, man. This is what we’re doing,'" Brown said. "So we can’t get so into the football that we forget that we need to go by all the guidelines.”
The players also got to experience what the atmosphere of the stadium is going to be like, as Brown said they are anticipating “very few or no” fans in the stands for UNC’s season-opener against Syracuse on Sept. 12.
Brown also addressed the concerns surrounding myocarditis, a condition linked to COVID-19 that impairs heart function, after it was announced that Georgia State quarterback Mikele Colasurdo won't play in the 2020 season after developing a heart condition due to the coronavirus.
“We’ve had our doctors and our trainers talk to our players at length, and we have one of the best screening processes for their heart if they have a positive,” Brown said. “We have told them every day that if you don’t feel comfortable, or if you don’t want to play this year for any reason, then you can stay and still keep your scholarship.”
But despite all of the uncertainty surrounding the season, Brown reaffirmed that he believes, now more than ever, the Tar Heels will be playing football this fall.
“I don’t think anything is 100 percent this year. 2020 is the year that everything that is 100 percent changes in about an hour and a half,” Brown said. “But I do think, right now, everybody is feeling comfortable, the most comfortable we’ve felt that we will have a football season this fall.”
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