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The new normal: North Texas football adjusting to travel restrictions in 2020

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Following a 52-35 win against Middle Tennessee (2-5, 2-3 Conference USA) on Saturday, Oct. 17, the Mean Green (2-3, 1-2 C-USA) began a road trip with four of its final six matchups on the road. The offensive record-breaking night for North Texas was the program’s first road victory since Nov. 24, 2018, when they defeated Texas-San Antonio 27-24, while going the 2019 season winless away from Apogee Stadium.

“This kind of win feels really good especially on the road, especially with everything that’s happened in the past in road games,” senior defensive back Makyle Sanders said in a post-game press conference. “The energy [from winning] came from our leaders stepping up and everyone doing their job. All of that really starts in practices, I feel like this week we were energized and it rolled into the game.”

The future road games the Mean Green have on the remainder of the schedule are Alabama-Birmingham (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) on Nov. 14, and Texas-San Antonio for Nov. 28 (4-4, 2-2 C-USA).

Before North Texas football kicked its games off each Saturday this season, a new set of protocols were enforced by players, coaches and staff members if they wanted to play. The 2020 college football season’s pact came at an agreement between the conferences and its respective teams to follow COVID-19 protocols.

Traveling and staying in hotels before games have a different atmosphere in 2020 than in the past. Before the 2020 college football season, football players and team personnel used to eat dinner together, hold team meetings and have team activities in large groups. North Texas football took the initiative this season to minimize large gatherings at the team hotels and reduce the number of people who can travel on road games.

Each night before the games, the team stays at a designated hotel regardless if it’s a home or away game. Eating dinner as a team and the group activities in previous years are no longer permitted. The players and staff members are expected to minimize contact when leaving their hotel rooms and spend most of their time in their assigned room.

The North Texas staff members provide approved meals and food. Hotel staff workers volunteered to be absent in the process of the North Texas players and personnel getting food because they do not test multiple times per week with the C-USA testing protocols.

“On Fridays when they arrive at the team hotel they’ll get about 45 minutes to get their stuff and be settled into their rooms,” said Shane Elder, North Texas assistant athletic director for football operations. “Once they get settled in, they’ll grab some dinner and head back up to their rooms where they have free time to do whatever they’d like. We still let them have roommates and pair them up with someone they live with or someone from a different position group.”

Elder’s responsibilities this season as an assistant athletic director include working with Jeff Smith, North Texas senior associate athletic director for sports medicine, on mandating the C-USA-regulated COVID-19 protocols among players and football staff members. The two also work with the traveling operations and mandate the team’s safety measurements on road games.

While commuting from place-to-place, there is a specific plan each week by the football staff members to seat players and personnel with extra distance. These strategies include leaving space in between seats on the busses, planes and mandating mask-wearing at all times.

The North Texas athletic department implemented a limit on the amount of personnel who can travel on road games. Before the 2020 season, about 170 total North Texas football players, coaches and staff members traveled with the team. This year the team reduced their traveling personnel to about 120 total people.

Each team bus for this season will carry around 25 or 30 total people. The seating arrangement is to leave the first two rows empty and leave a seat in between each person to allow more social distance.

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For plane rides on long-distance travel for road games, a plan is laid out each week by staff members to put the players in an order where different players are sitting in different position groups.

“The way we split everyone up is by making sure we have different position players sit next to each other or having roommates sit together,” Elder said. “That way if someone tests positive you don’t have an entire position group out and end up empty-handed on game day. This is something we plan and put a lot of time in.”

Despite there being new protocols for college football teams in the team hotels, the staff members try to keep the same type of environment for the players in each hotel setting like previous seasons.

“Even though this type of environment is new this year, we’ve tried to keep it as a normal routine whether it’s at home or on the road,” head football coach Seth Littrell said. “We’ve traveled so much during this season with the new COVID-19 protocols that it’s become our new normal. You still have to follow all of those guidelines and implement them everywhere you go.”

Featured Image: Redshirt sophomore safety Jaxon Gibbs and sophomore defensive back Deshawn Gaddie tackles SMU offensive player on Sept. 19, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

Article Originally Published by Preston Rios on North Texas Daily

Source: North Texas Daily

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