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NIU

'I'm here to play football and when they say its safe to do so, me and my guys will be ready:' Football back at NIU with voluntary workouts

Northern Illinois senior linebacker Kyle Pugh, from Chicago Heights, sprints during a drill Thursday in practice at Huskie Stadium.
Northern Illinois senior linebacker Kyle Pugh, from Chicago Heights, sprints during a drill Thursday in practice at Huskie Stadium.

On June 15, NIU football players returned to campus for voluntary workouts in groups of 10, which linebacker Kyle Pugh said makes for a very different epxereince.

"During this time normally we're all together as a team and doing bonding stuff right now," Pugh said. "But because of what's going on in the world we're restricted to 10 guys or less in a group. We're doing conditioning in small groups. The biggest adjustment is not being around the whole team."

Zach Cahill, a sports performance coach with the Huskies, said groups will remain small as Illinois enters Phase 4 of its re-open plan, which would allow up to 50 people into the weight room at a time with 12,500 square feet of space. He said he expects groups to be at about 20-25 students for now.

Cahill said it's mostly football players back with some basketball players. He said the emphasis is on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Pugh said he feels as safe as possible during the workouts.

"I don't know all the details of the virus or how it spreads or all that," Pugh said. "But I know the emphasis is on social distancing, even within our group. Don't be close to other guys, wear masks in the building as you walk around, socially distance, wash our hands as much as possible. It's all about staying safe and staying healthy."

Cahill said it's been a challenge on the sports performance with staff. The small group size and inability to overlap has made for 12-hour plus days for the trainers.

"We're happy to have everybody and are glad to see them," Cahill said. "They've done well over the break from a conditioning standpoint. But we're being realistic with everything, accounts, weights and all that. The majority are in pretty good shape but the biggest goal this summer is to get them in shape for camp."

Cahill said there's about 100 football players present for the drills, with a new group starting every hour on the hour. The group is spread out in the weight room, with only one athlete per rack. Normally it can be three or so at a rack, Cahill said. He also said there's usually between 30 and 45 athletes working out at a time in the weight room, and that can grow as high as 70 during camp.

"That's controlled chaos," Cahill said. "We could go in during the school year and see like 30 football players, 30 wrestlers and 10 to 15 volleyball players all in there. That's pretty normal to walk into the weight room and see close to 100 people. It's a big weight room and it's spread out. you forget how big it is when nobody is in there. It feels empty with only 10 in there."

Cahill said encouragement has been particularly important since most athletes haven't access to the type of equipment they are used to.

"A lot of these guys are working from scratch," Cahill said. "They get frustrated but do what they can since they've only been doing pushups for three months. You're going to lose something. But we'll get where we need to be by the start of the season."

Pugh, heading into his senior year, said he's hopeful the season goes as planned.

"Obviously some games might be moved around or things like that," Pugh said. "We're just preparing until they give us the green light. I'm here to play football and when they say its safe to do so, me and my guys will be ready."

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