While the landscape of college football has been plagued with uncertainty throughout the country surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, UCF Head Football Coach Josh Heupel explained how his team hopes to continue to go “1-0” each week through the adversity in a press conference call on Thursday:
“It truly is ‘the new normal,'” Heupel said. “Nothing is status quo of what it was a year ago. The way we come in the building is completely different. The way you meet is completely different, we’re spaced out. Protocol going onto the practice field and coming off of it (is also different). Everything is different.”
Heupel also elaborated that his biggest challenge personally was trying to connect with players on limited face-to-face communication: “Talking through the computer, you’re able to gain information, but you miss that interaction and I think that was a big piece. Just the human connection side of it with our football team. That’s what a team’s all about is that connection.”
With more contact occurring when the players are on the UCF practice field, currently they are in pods when taking reps to prepare for the upcoming campaign. They are using this approach to minimize exposure between the players themselves early on.
Heupel spoke to on-the-field topics as well. Quarterback McKenzie Milton has made significant strides since his horrific leg injury that has kept him sidelined since the final regular-season game of 2018. Heupel expressed his cautious optimism:
“[He’s] doing a lot of really good things”, said Heupel. “He’s cleared for more and more activity. He’s doing all the individual work throwing footballs, [he’s] doing some group work stuff where he definitely doesn’t have a chance to be touched. . . as training camp goes on, he’ll be able to do more and more things.”
While Heupel definitely acknowledges significant progression in Milton’s quest to take snaps, it still seems likely today that last year’s starter, sophomore Dillon Gabriel, will be under center on the first snap of the year.
The offensive line also came up as a topic of discussion. With starting center Jordan Johnson having graduated last year, the middle of the line as well as the tackle spots have been significant position battles in camp.
Though Heupel wasn’t willing to name any frontrunners less than a week into camp, he did cite their significance: “The depth of those positions is a strength…in a season like this, your kids aren’t in as good of shape as they typically are at this point, I think early in the year you’re probably going to have to rotate more.”
If the offensive trenches can come together in a fashion that the previous season’s defensive line did, leading the nation in tackles for loss after losing significant pieces, UCF may find themselves with a stronger finish than their 2019 performance that landed them a ranking of 21st in the Amway PreSeason’s coaching poll.