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College football athletes focus on school, staying active during pandemic

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – College football athletes should be in the middle of spring practice right now.

Instead, a handful of them are running sand drills on a volleyball court in Jacksonville, squeezing in what conditioning that they can on a hot Tuesday afternoon.

That’s the new normal for now as the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed life across the country and put sports on hold.

Former high school stars who now play on the college level met with trainer Koreen Burch this week to get in as much work as possible. Most have been working with Burch, now the offensive coordinator at Providence, for several years.

“[Liberty] makes sure every day I do my work,” said Flames redshirt freshman receiver Demario Douglas. “Coach Burch’s field work with me, so he makes sure I stay up for the college season.”

Former Fletcher receiver Jeremiah Payton is entering his redshirt freshman season at Miami and he wouldn’t be in Jacksonville during this time of year normally.

Now?

He’s back in town balancing distance learning with as much physical work that he can get in safely.

“It's been a little different, but at Miami, they kind of just tell us to go out there, whatever you can do, put some work in,” Payton said. “The main thing is like staying up on school, really. Just staying up on school, making sure you’re eligible when we come back. So, I've been in the house a lot doing a lot of schoolwork, but I actually also come out here and do something, have a little fun.”

Georgia redshirt junior defensive back Ameer Speed, a Sandalwood graduate, said it’s been a mix of staying in close contact with his college coaches daily and then getting as much work in physically as possible.

“They’re just making sure we stay on point,” he said. “Like we started our unit meetings [Monday] so they send us workouts every day. We have to do group FaceTime or this thing called Zoom every day now just to make sure everybody stays on point. You don't want to let up. We still got a season to play in the fall.”

On Tuesday, Burch put the players through a variety of drills in the soft sand of a beach volleyball court. Few drills involved catching a football, but one in particular did.

Players ran a few steps away from Burch, turned around on the fly and ran back toward their coach. Burch lobbed a football to the players in stride, who had to catch it and then duck under a volleyball net, all in the span of roughly 20 feet.

Payton said that through the ups and downs of the pandemic, the ultimate benefit will come to the college athlete who stayed focused and determined through the struggles.

“Kind of just taking care of yourself, like just being on your own,” he said. “As a student athlete, being on your own, not having a coach push you, this is going to make you better. You aint got nothing else to do, just work out and do schoolwork, that’s it. That’s it.”


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