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Florida Gators return to football after COVID-19 outbreak

Coach Dan Mullen was back in UF’s offices Monday after a two-week break of football-related activities.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen watches on during the first half of a game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., on Sept. 26.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen watches on during the first half of a game against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss., on Sept. 26. [ THOMAS GRANING | AP ]
Published Oct. 26, 2020
Updated Oct. 27, 2020

The Florida Gators' two-week shutdown ended Monday when the team returned to the football facilities for the first time since a coronavirus spike infected more than two dozen players and at least three coaches.

“I think everybody’s really excited, ready to get back after it, ready to get back to football,” said coach Dan Mullen, who was back in the office after spending the last two weeks isolating at home as one of the team’s confirmed COVID-19 cases. “I think after not playing, I think that is something that is big within the team right now, is that ability to get back out on the field, get back to doing football.”

Related: Florida Gators hope to return to practice Monday after COVID-19 spike. It won’t be easy.

Mullen didn’t get into some of the specifics of UF’s outbreak. He declined to say whether anyone was hospitalized, although he did say UF hasn’t had “a whole lot of major issues” from infections.

He also wouldn’t reveal how close the Gators will get to having a full roster during practice this week or Saturday against Missouri. But Mullen was confident UF will be able to meet the SEC’s minimum threshold of 53 active scholarship players.

“We’ll figure it out…” Mullen said during Monday’s weekly news conference. “I’m sure we’ll have 53 guys ready to play.”

The unknown question: How ready will they really be?

The No. 10 Gators shut down all football activities on Oct. 13 as the number of positive cases started to rise following the Texas A&M trip. UF reported 25 new positives among football players in its weekly update last Tuesday, bringing the total to 31 this month. Mullen said UF’s last positive test was Saturday.

The spike forced the postponement of two home games, pushing LSU from Oct. 17 to Dec. 12 and moving Missouri back a week. The scheduling change essentially gave the Gators back-to-back open dates — but without the chance to stay sharp or drill fundamentals with off-week practices.

“You didn’t have the opportunity to do that with guys because you missed out on so many practices,” Mullen said. “You missed a whole week of game practice and then you missed another whole week of bye-week practices, so we’ve missed a whole bunch of practice opportunities.”

Because the Gators were limited to Zoom meetings, Mullen said his players couldn’t accomplish much else besides getting some rest. That, too, has downsides. The SEC requires infected players to undergo a four-day re-acclimation period that will limit how much they can practice this week.

Related: Five things we’ve learned about college football in the coronavirus era

Add in the risk of rust, and Mullen was more interested in his team’s enthusiasm Monday than its execution.

Mullen said UF continues to look at what happened during the road trip to facilitate the virus' spread and what steps the program can take to fix the issues in their next road trips.

Rock the vote

The NCAA’s decision to give players a day off on election day provided some confusion to the Gators.

Mullen said the Gators were planning on voting as a team, but the NCAA rule prohibits team activities. Mullen said he thought an organized voting effort could count as a team activity.

The NCAA clarified Tuesday that its rules only prevent athletic-related activities on election day, which would make a team vote possible.

Uni watch

The Gators unveiled this week’s throwback uniforms — blue helmets with an orange F inside a white circle, blue jerseys, white pants and black cleats. They’re another nod to the 1960s and the playing days of UF legend Steve Spurrier, just like the retro look the Gators wore against Auburn last year.

No. 10 Florida (2-1) vs. Missouri (2-2)

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: SEC Network alternate