After having just two spring practices before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down college campuses nationwide in March, voluntary workouts are in full swing for Husker football.
Most of the players are back on campus, according to head coach Scott Frost, who said he can count the players that aren’t there “on one or two hands.”
Frost said that the team was put at a disadvantage by not being able to have the rest of its spring practices while other teams around the nation and Big Ten had most, if not all of theirs. However, the early return to campus has helped make up for that disparity.
“Right when it started, I think we did a good job getting ahead and putting our heads together and trying to figure out how to solve the problem of getting our team back to campus safely for them and safely for the community,” Frost said in a press conference via Zoom on Tuesday morning. “And I think we're a little bit ahead of the curve on that. But any advantage we get there we need because I don't think we've been on the right side of a couple other ones.”
Frost gave credit to Chief of Staff Gerrod Lambrecht, Associate Director of Football Operations Andrew Simms, head strength coach Zach Duval and assistant strength coach Andrew Strop for their efforts in giving the players the safest possible environment. He also mentioned how fluid the situation is regarding how his team can practice, and that he and his staff are taking things one step at a time.
“It's an ever changing landscape. Seems like every two days we look out and there's a different ruling, a different mandate, a different thing we can be doing or not be doing and without getting into the minutiae of all of it,” Frost said. “Every time one of those things changes, our schedule changes, our plans have to change.”
However, he said he was confident that the Huskers have been handling the pandemic “as well or better than anyone else in the country.” He mentioned that his staff has been through three games canceled or rescheduled by hurricanes and lightning storms dating back to his time at UCF, although this current situation still wasn’t anticipated.
Frost said that the team’s leadership has been key in strengthening the team culture during this time. The Huskers started a leadership group on the team with players from every position group to help handle some operations and communication.
“Across the board I think our leadership is going to be a lot stronger this year than it's been, in some ways the challenge with this virus has brought our team together,” he said. “And I feel like through adversity, our team's probably tighter than it's been since I've been in the process.”
The players are ready to get back in action as well, according to Frost.
“Our kids are not scared of this. And I know there's a lot of people that are and rightfully so, but you know, our kids just want to be out lifting and running and get ready for a football season,” he said. “And I think some of the directive on how we handle those situations is going to be important as we get into season, but I know our kids want to play.”
As far as things on the field, there have been more changes and challenges. The team is looking at moving senior offensive lineman Matt Farniok to right guard after spending all of last season at right tackle, according to Frost. This move would allow a younger tackle, such as former four-star recruit and redshirt freshman Bryce Benhart, to step up at that position.
However, the loss of reps in the spring is another disadvantage for the Huskers. While most of the newcomers are on campus, they haven’t been able to integrate with the team much yet.
One position group Frost said he isn’t too worried about is the quarterback room. With Noah Vedral transferring to Rutgers, the Huskers’ top three quarterbacks will likely be junior Adrian Martinez, sophomore Luke McCaffrey and freshman Logan Smothers.
“I don't have any worries or concerns about Luke to be honest with you. He's one of the hardest working kids on our team. He spends all his time on football, he's going to be ready,” Frost said. “Obviously with Logan being new and enrolling early, missing those spring practices wasn't ideal for him either. But we'll get him caught up.”
Frost also spoke more on student-athletes using their platforms to generate change within programs. In recent weeks, football players at Iowa spoke up about racism they experienced in the program and Oklahoma State Heisman candidate running back Chuba Hubbard called out head coach Mike Gundy on Twitter for wearing a T-shirt with the logo of far-right cable channel One America News Network (OAN) on it.
Frost made it clear that he strongly believes that players should have their own voices, and that he would never try to restrict them from speaking out on what they believe in.
“We've never tried to stifle our kids’ voices,” he said. “I want them to have the outlet to voice their opinions and say what they think and we'll always encourage that kind of free thinking and free speech in our program.”