Colorado athletic director Rick George recently said that while it will be strongly encouraged for student-athletes to get a COVID-19 vaccine, it will be an individual choice.
So far, several football players have made that choice, and head coach Karl Dorrell said there is a goal to get most, if not all, of the team through the first round of the vaccine by the time spring practices come to a close on April 30.
“If we can do that by (April 30), they can get that second shot … wherever they are in May, prior to coming back here in June,” Dorrell said Monday after the Buffs completed the 10th of 15 spring practices. “That’s the goal is to try and get everybody vaccinated by the time we start the June process.”
Dorrell said about 25-30 players have already had their first COVID-19 vaccine shot. The hope, he said, is that by the time the team starts its summer session in June, there will be enough people in the program vaccinated to relax some of the mandates of wearing masks, etc.
“Hopefully it’ll look very similar to what a normal year would look in June,” he said.
For now, however, there are daily reminders that the COVID-19 pandemic is still very much an issue.
Staff and players still go through the antigen testing process on practice days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) and do saliva tests on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The team has been hit by some positive tests this spring, as well as having some players miss time due to contact tracing.
“We have a handful of guys that still have the virus or going through the return to play philosophy, so to speak, with the guys that have had it,” Dorrell said, “but I would say in all, they’ve handled it pretty well.”
Two weeks after the Buffs put together a lackluster Monday practice, they continue to show Dorrell that was an aberration.
“This team responds to that constructive criticism, that constructive work that we were talking about at that time,” Dorrell said. “The last two Mondays have been almost steps up coming off of a weekend; having Saturday and Sunday off and then stepping up. I am just really pleased with the progress this team is making.”
Receiver Brenden Rice was not at practice two weeks ago because of COVID-19, but he said there has been an emphasis among the young players to step up. CU has several key leaders out with injuries this spring and that has tested the leadership of the youth.
“Someone’s gonna have to step up with (senior quarterback) Sam Noyer down and a couple people out with COVID,” Rice said. “We’ve got to have the younger guys step up and say something. We have to make sure that we’re going through practice and that we’re absorbing every single second of it because as soon as that fall camp comes around and the games come around, it’s truly going to show up.”
Dorrell believes it’s already showing up, as he was pleased once again with the Buffs on Monday.
“Our young players, as you can imagine, they’re still swimming, but there’s a lot of guys that are getting really good reps and they’re getting better,” Dorrell said. “I’m just really encouraged with what this team is doing right now. They’re really getting the information down and it’s starting to really look nice and sharp and crisp and really precision-like.”
Entering his fourth season with the Buffs, receiver Daniel Arias is still aiming for a breakout year. Dorrell said the 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior is off to a good start.
“You can tell every time he’s out practicing he’s so much more confident, he’s so much more assertive,” Dorrell said. “You feel his speed on the field because he’s a lot more comfortable knowing what his information is and what he needs to perform and do.”
Including the Valero Alamo Bowl, Arias had six catches for 105 yards last season and has caught 10 passes in his career. He hauled in a 31-yard touchdown during a scrimmage on Friday.
“To me, he’s a completely different player now than what I saw of him in the fall,” Dorrell said. “I didn’t see the assertiveness and him being confident, that he knew what he was doing. That’s completely changed right now when you watch him. He’s playing fast, he’s strong and big and he’s having a really good spring so far.”
Dorrell said freshman running back Ashaad Clayton is “so much more assertive when he’s running the football because he’s getting more reps and he understands what we’re doing.” … Dorrell also singled out freshman tight end Caleb Fauria and defensive linemen Na’im Rodman and Austin Williams as players showing noticeable growth this spring. … Running back Jarek Broussard, who has been dealing with a sprained ankle, is out of his walking boot and doing individual work, but the Buffs aren’t rushing him back to practice.