NFL draft class faced major challenges in COVID-19 battles | Sports News


By MICHAEL MAROT, AP sports journalist

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — This year’s NFL Draft prospects reluctantly recall their personal experiences with COVID-19.

Some see them as inspiring reminders of obstacles already overcome. Others are more reminiscent of old war stories. And as the stories change, each comes with unforgettable details and heartfelt emotion about an uphill two-year battle to pursue their dreams.

Pandemic protocols barred Alabama wide receiver John Metchie III from seeing his Canadian family for two years. South Dakota State running back Pierre Strong played 24 games in 10 months. Minnesota tackle Daniel Faalele tipped the scales at 405 pounds after retiring for the 2020 season. Kentucky guard Darian Kinnard practiced flipping logs while his mom took care of the hospitalized patients and that UConn defensive tackle Travis Jones was dealing with the cancellation of an entire season.

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“I’m glad my family stayed safe and everything,” Metchie said in March. “Not seeing my mother for two years was difficult. I knew that eventually I would see her again. Of course, technology helps today. It’s not the same as seeing them in person or being around them in person, but it certainly helps.

This class project arrived on campus with the exuberant expectation of a traditional college experience and instead used video calls to socialize, isolation to continue playing, and pure courage to deal with rules, regulations, and restrictions. constantly evolving.

These players lost the spring 2020 football schedule and planned individual training with whatever they could find nearby. Even when they returned to campus, the uncertainty remained.

Some schools in the Big Ten Conference actually started practicing in pads before college presidents pulled everyone off the field and announced that no games would be played. When the SEC and other leagues failed to follow the Big Ten’s lead, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and his Buckeyes teammates called on conference officials to reinstate the season.

The effort worked – sort of.

“It’s crazy,” Ohio State tackle Nick Petit-Frere said. “The season was canceled, came back, games were canceled. We played one of the craziest seasons you could imagine in college football history and somehow the Ohio State Buckeyes were in the championship game ( national). … It’s a once-in-a-lifetime two or three-year experience.”

But in some cases, the physical and mental assessment has a cost.

Strong faced a monumental hurdle when the Football Championship Division decided to play a spring and fall season in 2021. He helped the Jackrabbits make the playoffs both times, recording 371 runs and 2,393 yards from mid-February to mid-December. Still, he ran a 4.37-second sprint for 40 yards, tying Rutgers’ Isaih Pacheco for the fastest time among running backs at the annual NFL scouting combine.

While Kinnard took the usual measures of extra hand washing and social distancing to help keep his mother healthy, the 6-foot-5, 322-pound offensive lineman, like many people, was unhappy with being ‘locked in’ as he ran hills to stay in shape.

In Louisiana, it was worse for tackle Max Mitchell, who spent two weeks in isolation after a COVID-19 test showed he had antibodies. He returned in October and finished the season, but the impact lingers.

“It was frustrating to say the least,” Mitchell said. “I never tested positive and they came and took me off the pitch in the middle of training. If you have been sick, I understand that you need to take care of yourself. But when you feel good, there’s a feeling of guilt when you’re not there.

It’s not just what happens on the pitch either.

When NFL officials announced during the combine that all COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted this fall, the sentiment of the vast majority of the more than 300 guests was gratitude.

“One, nobody wants that stick in their nose,” Auburn linebacker Zakoby McClain said. in their nose.

For a player like Metchie, who was born in his mother’s native Taiwan, lived in Ghana until he came to Canada at the age of 6 and attended high schools in New Jersey and Maryland as a The son of a Nigerian father before choosing Alabama, the easing of travel restrictions would be a welcome respite – especially as he is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

But for anyone hoping to get drafted, the life-changing twists and turns on the way to this year’s draft will help keep football in perspective.

“To think about the end of it all, I’m talking in front of you guys, with an NFL microphone, an NFL nameplate, a combine with a chance to do what almost every little kid, or every athlete dreamed of. , to go run a 40 in Indy,” Petit-Frère said. “When I think about it and think about where I am now, I can’t quite imagine how it happened.”

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