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Karl Dorrell keeping CU Buffs on course

First-year head football coach doing best to navigate through coronavirus-impacted season

BOULDER, CO – November 7, 2020: Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell takes the field with his team during the season opener against UCLA at Folsom Field. (University of Colorado Athletics)

Getting back into a routine with practices and games has given Karl Dorrell some normalcy to the football life he’s known for more than three decades.

There are daily moments of anxiety, though, before Colorado’s head football coach dives into work.

“Literally every morning before we have our meetings, I’m waiting for the all-clear signal from our training room saying that everybody’s cleared and ready to go,” Dorrell said. “That’s how it’s been.”

Navigating a football season during the coronavirus pandemic has been anything but normal and it hasn’t been easy, but as the Buffaloes (1-0) prepare to visit Stanford (0-1) on Saturday (1:30 p.m., TV: ESPN), they are doing the best they can.

“We’ve been really fortunate our guys have done a great job of taking care of themselves and doing the right things when they’re not here in our facility and they’re in their dorm or in their apartment,” Dorrell said. “I think they’re doing a nice job of really taking care of themselves and it’s not been an issue so far. We’re just hopeful that we can continue this streak.”

The pandemic delayed the start of the season more than two months, leaving the Pac-12 as the last conference in the Football Bowl Subdivision to get started. Two Pac-12 games were canceled last week, and there are games being canceled every week around the country. In fact, another rash of cancellations has moved CU’s game this week from ESPN2 to ESPN.

Although the Buffs have stayed healthy to this point, that could change in an instant. A game could be canceled or they could lose players to positive tests or quarantine protocols.

CU doesn’t have to look far for examples. In-state rivals Air Force and Colorado State have already had games canceled. This week’s opponent, Stanford, lost its starting quarterback, Davis Mills, and other players to COVID-19 protocols last week. It’s unclear if Mills will play against the Buffs.

Dorrell preaches to his team to be ready for anything.

“Obviously, this year has been very, very challenging in every aspect of what we do in our lives,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what profession. Everybody’s being hit by this pandemic. … Some people have really had different levels of responses about it. I’ve been so impressed with how this team has rolled with the punches. They haven’t expressed any level of panic or any level of discernment that they felt that would restrict them from being successful this year.”

The players have seen teams around the country impacted with canceled games or players sitting out and know that everybody is in the same boat. Dorrell has taught them to focus on doing their part, though.

“What we have to concern ourselves with are the things that are under our control,” he said. “We try to stay healthy as we can and they’ve done a great job of that.

“Maybe their normal approach to the game has been different than what it’s been in the past because of these restrictions. They’ve kind of rolled with the punches, so they’ve learned a lot, in terms of how to deal with a lot of stuff, (such as) school being remote. There’s a number of things that have been completely different for these guys.”

It’s been different for the coaches, too, as they can’t simply focus on the upcoming game. They have to worry more about the daily health and safety of the players, and they have to get more players ready each week to compete – just in case.

“We need all of our players,” Dorrell said. “We’re not deep in a lot of areas, so we don’t want to have an issue where someone maybe comes down with (COVID-19) and the contact tracing and all those things that happen.

“The ones that are in the second team level right now, they know that they have to study and prepare as if they’re the starter, because at any point in time in the course of a week, an injury can happen, COVID can happen, anything. So, we need our second team to be ready for that opportunity to come for themselves.

“So far they’ve passed every test when it was something like this that has occurred.”

With six more games to play, though, Dorrell still shows up to work every day with fingers crossed.