• 63°

COVID-19 challenges loom as Ole Miss opens fall camp

The Southeastern Conference officially kicked off its 2020 college football preseason on Monday as all 14 teams opened up fall camp, with one giant elephant in the room.

COVID-19 is still very real and still very prominent in Oxford and across the world. It is the biggest off-the-field challenge first-year head coach Lane Kiffin is having to handle with his players.

When it comes to on-the-field, team meetings are being held in the indoor practice facility instead of the normal team room to allow for proper social distancing. Water breaks or breaks in between practice periods normally spent under tents in the shade are no long allowable with the new practice protocols and guidelines.

In this unique season, Kiffin feels teams that have the most success will be the ones who manage this pandemic the best along with their on-the-field success.

“It’s a little bit challenging,” Kiffin said. “Everybody wants a fast (40-yard dash) time, everybody wants to lift weights to get stronger so they can play better and win games. Well, this is going to be more important than the shape you’re in, how fast you are, how strong you are. The teams that handle this the best and the players that are the safest, those teams are going to win a lot of games. Because you could have teams down significant (number of) players, especially when it comes to social distancing. If you don’t handle that properly, all of a sudden a couple guys get it and you have to shut down 20 guys for two weeks.”

Students who live on campus began returning to Oxford this past weekend, with others who live off-campus having started returning last month. Ole Miss’ fall semester begins on Aug. 24.

Keeping players in a makeshift bubble as much as possible is the challenge Kiffin is facing, especially since the NCAA nor SEC mandate bubbles similar to the NBA and NHL. College towns are filling back up and coming back to life after lying dormant for five months and images of students lined up outside of restaurants and popular entertainment spots across the region without masks on or proper social distancing littered social media feeds this past weekend.

Oxford’s popular Downtown District and the Square is starting to come back to life, something Kiffin noted is a challenge when asking his players to be smart and stay safe.

“The challenge is when they’re not with us,” Kiffin said. “I think you’ve got to be realistic. It’s not going to be perfect. If people think people are doing this well, I mean open your eyes. This isn’t kids, adults aren’t doing it. Just drive through downtown and look around or look at pictures on the internet of other places. This is not being taken very serious by people, especially by young people that are back college after sitting back at home with their parents the last several months.”

Ole Miss opens up the 2020 season against Florida on Sept. 26.