Last week, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football managing editor, Greg Tepper, wrote about Runge High School forfeiting its first two games of the 2023 season due to a COVID-19 outbreak before eventually choosing to play an outlaw six-man schedule.
The situation at Runge was alarming as people recalled the shutdown when the coronavirus became a pandemic in 2020. Runge isn’t the only high school to cancel games because of the virus. Santa Paula High School recently canceled a game in California, and Duchesne canceled its scheduled game against Cardinal Ritter in Missouri.
The spread of the virus reached the college football world in Texas when Wayland Baptist had 26 players test positive for COVID-19 ahead of the Pioneers game against Oklahoma Panhandle State last week.
The spread began when a player on the scout team returned to campus following Week 0 and felt ill. WBU coach Marcos Hinojos Sr. has a standing order that any player feeling sick during morning weights must report to his office. The purpose of the order is to guard against a player trying to avoid lifting weights or using illness as an excuse for oversleeping.
Hinojos sent the player to his dorm, but the athlete felt better before afternoon practice. The player received clearance from WBU’s medical staff, believing the cause was allergies. However, the athlete started feeling ill again and was the first member of the team to test positive for COVID.
On the Pioneers' Friday walkthrough before their Week 1 game, two starters told Hinojos they weren’t feeling well following a nap. Those players were sent to the medical staff and tested positive for COVID-19, forcing them to miss the season's first game.
The administration acted quickly and had every member of the program tested. That’s when 23 other players tested positive. The infected players were promptly isolated for five days, with some reporting no symptoms and some reporting feeling sick for three or four days.
The entire athletic facility was cleaned from top to bottom. The spread of the virus was contained with only one or two players from other programs in the department testing positive. Hinojos ensured members of his team and staff wore masks inside team meeting rooms and other appropriate places.
“My obligations are to the students and this university and its policies and procedures,” Hinojos said. “Our administration prevented it from spreading to other teams. Back in 2021, this whole thing would’ve been shut down. We use the protocol for identifying illnesses that we developed in 2020. I’m thankful our administration is putting the athlete’s health first, not a football game.”
The spread of the virus disrupted practices heading into WBU’s game against OPSU. But Hinojos quickly pointed out that the virus mainly hit the scout team but was not the reason for the Pioneers 33-17 defeat. Every WBU player on the two-deep roster entering the game was a scholarship athlete.
“Hats off to Coach (Cory) Miller and OPSU,” Hinojos said. “They had issues of their own throughout the week, and they overcame and outplayed us. They won that ballgame because they were able to run the ball, and we weren’t.”
Things have begun to return to normal in Plainview. Hinojos said the final three players in isolation will return to the team within the next day or two. That doesn’t mean there won’t be changes for the scout team players when they return to campus after the weekend.
“Moving forward, we will test our players when they go home for a weekend, especially the scout team players,” Hinojos said. “Thankfully, we have a university that can afford to test our players.”
Send questions you’d like answered on Non-FBS football to Cory.Hogue@TexasFootball.com or X/Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Threads @CoryHogueSports, and I will pick at least one to answer each week.
Entering the season, I had the United Athletic Conference as one of the top four conferences in FCS with a chance to move higher. After two weeks, the conference's depth has me slotting the UAC behind only the Missouri Valley and Big Sky Conferences. The UAC has seven quality programs. The preseason favorites of Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, and Stephen F. Austin have been solid. Abilene Christian is a threat to be in the conversation for a playoff berth with its improved offensive and defensive line. Southern Utah and Tarleton have improved over last season and will be tough teams to beat within the conference. The only teams that appear in the basement after two weeks are North Alabama and Utah Tech.
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