There were some familiar and happy faces at Arizona Stadium bright and early Monday morning.
Under the watchful eyes of medical professionals and strength and conditioning coaches, the Arizona Wildcats football team began summer voluntary workouts this week. It marked the first time student-athletes have been able to access athletic facilities since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"It has been a monumental effort by a lot of people to get us to this point, all under the guidance of our university's reentrance team," Vice President and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke said. "We have a reentry team in athletics, but we've been working in conjunction with the university's general reentry team and the leadership there. I've been very appreciative and thankful to President Robert C. Robbins for his leadership during this time."
The Arizona football program welcomed 19 student-athletes back to campus last week, and that group began workouts Monday morning. The group returned one week before the workouts began to undergo medical testing and education, while socially isolating.
The team will bring in 30 more players next week for workouts and 30 more the following week. The players are working out in groups of six or seven at Arizona Stadium, allowing them to practice social distancing. All student-athletes have also been supplied with two masks and must wear them while they're on campus.
"This is a privilege to start this reentry plan and champion the efforts Dr. Robbins and his team have done for the university as a whole," said Dr. Stephen Paul, one of the team's physicians, who has worked very closely with the reentry teams. "The No. 1 goal is the health and safety of our student-athletes and staff. This is fluid and flexible. We are always able to move and be nimble to prepare for the safety of our student-athletes, faculty and staff.
"We are working within the task force that the president set up. With his guidance, with his medical background, his knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for this, and I would say foresight for how he is planning to get us going, it's a great construct."
The COVID-19 testing effort is being led by Cecilia Rosales, associate dean of Phoenix programs and professor of public health at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and Michael Hammer, professor of neurology and research scientist in the College of Medicine – Tucson and a member of Arizona Research Labs and the BIO5 Institute. Rosales and Hammer are developing the university's COVID-19 testing operations plan, starting with pilot testing of student-athletes and eventually scaling up to prepare for faculty, staff and student campus reentry this fall.
In addition to the support from Robbins, Heeke and Paul, football head coach Kevin Sumlin has been very clear with his team how important it is to follow all medical guidelines set for them, while continuing to learn from the medical professionals on campus.
"With coach Sumlin, it's starting from the top down," Paul said. "He explained to the team that if one person goes down, it has a ripple effect. I'm so impressed with how these guys are taking it seriously and listening to him. They get it. This is the new norm, and they're doing a great job."