After four months without official practice, the Illinois State University football team opens organized team activities on Thursday and it will be unlike any other in recent history.

Changes include opening two weeks earlier than usual with NFL style OTA camp. During OTAs, the Redbirds will practice without pads for an hour in a run through style practice. Then the offensive, defensive and special teams will have their meetings to install their playbook.

With a 50-person limit in the state of Illinois, the Redbirds are doing away with full team meetings. Instead, players and coaches will conduct these meetings over Zoom.

Spack could see Zoom meetings becoming more normal even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I could see the Zoom meetings being a little bit more part of your life as a position coach,” Spack said. “Being able to save time being able to touch base with your players at night. You can go over a couple of important points over a meeting session. That would shorten that beating down a little.”

Other changes came to the Redbird program in the form of the schedule. A season-opening matchup was scheduled with the University of Illinois in Champaign.

“We were all really looking forward to this game. I felt good about it,” starting quarterback Brady Davis said. “I think they are a really good team; they had a good year last year and doing a good job building that program back up. I think we had a lot of good stuff we could have done against them and I was really excited about the game and was really expecting a dog fight.”

After the Big Ten announced the implementation of a conference-only season, other leagues moved to the same guidelines such as the Pac 12. Power Five conferences deciding to eliminate non-conference games could force smaller divisions — like the Missouri Valley Football Conference — and FCS schools to adapt to a conference-only season.

With a roster made up over 109 players, keeping safety will be a priority for the NCAA and ISU. Regular testing, social distancing guidelines and face coverings are all a part of the protocols put into place by ISU’s athletics department.

“Each student-athlete who has come to campus has had a COVID test to provide a baseline,” Lyons said. “We also required coaches, strength staff and athletics trainers to take a COVID test. Every day before a student-athlete enters an athletic facility they must complete a wellness check for symptoms and temperature check.”

“We moved approximately half of the weight room equipment out on the Redbird Arena floor to spread out the equipment for physical distancing. Face coverings are required during the indoor strength sessions.”

But despite everything that is already in place, Lyons still views the situation as fluid.

“The MVC and MVFC are currently working on in-season protocols for competition. The NCAA has published its third version of re-socialization protocols. Testing is included. I expect there to be continual revision and updates as we move closer to the fall.”

Due to restrictions put into place due to COVID-19, players will be expected to try and maintain safety protocols even away from the field, which could come as a challenge to a roster made of college students.

“Keeping our team healthy is the biggest priority,” Spack said. “From an injury standpoint but also trying to stay away from the virus and keeping that out of our team. This will be a year where if you’re a college football player your social life is going to take a back seat. You have to know and be careful who you hang out with and make sure you’re around the same folks and you know how they’ve been handling themselves”

The Redbird players would need to buy in for safety protocols to work.

After two weeks training camp will open on Aug. 6.

JAKE SERMERSHEIM is a Sports Editor for The Vidette. He can be contacted at Follow him on Twitter at @JakeSermersheim

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