Masks on: Texas football returns to practice

Stephen Wagner

Although practicing in 100-degree August heat is a long-standing norm for the Longhorns, the 2020 football season appears to be anything but normal.

Friday’s practice marked Texas’ first full team practice since Dec. 29, two days before the Longhorns beat Utah in the 2019 Alamo Bowl. Texas was slated to begin spring football March 24 before the Big 12 postponed all games, practices and recruiting on March 12. UT later canceled all spring football, including the 2020 Orange-White Game originally scheduled for April 25.

Texas’ 2020 season begins with a great deal of unknowns, with players across the country opting out due to COVID-19 and conferences attempting to safely complete a 2020 season. In his first media availability of the 2020 season on Friday, Herman addressed some of that uncertainty.

“(For) the first time in the last four or five months, it felt normal. That was really important for our guys — to have a sense of normalcy,” Herman said in the press conference. “It doesn’t feel normal having to pull your mask up or wearing a shield on the bottom of your facemask or standing six feet away from guys, but I think, for the most part, our guys are used to that new normal.”

The Big 12 announced earlier this week it would adopt a scheduling model that pushes back the season’s start date and allows all 10 of its member schools to play nine conference games and one nonconference game. Herman said he still isn’t sure when the first game of the 2020 season will be or when it will be played, though he anticipates knowing by early next week.

If and when the 2020 season does start, Texas may be without a full roster. Herman said senior running back Daniel Young is “weighing his options” regarding potentially opting out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns but has remained active in virtual team meetings. At least 17 players across the country have already opted out of the 2020 season, according to a tweet by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. 

“We absolutely support (Young) on that,” Herman said. “Whatever he needs from us, he’s going to get.” Herman also said he believes his players feel comfortable that the program is employing adequate strategies and protocols to mitigate the risk of the virus.

Even so, several conferences below the Football Bowl Subdivision level, including all of Division III, have canceled all fall championships due to fear of virus transmission. Herman said he hasn’t put a percentage on his confidence level in regard to Texas’ ability to play a 10-game season. He said circumstances can change in days or hours because standard practices, games and day-to-day routines have been thrown out the door due to the pandemic. 

But for now, Herman is trying to look beyond the looming uncertainties and just “get to practice,” as he doesn’t know what the future looks like.

“If we plan anything beyond a two- or three-week stretch, we’re crazy,” Herman said he told his coaches. “We’re wasting brain cells.”