HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - University of Southern Mississippi senior quarterback Jack Abraham succinctly summed up his feelings of taking the practice field under the cloud of COVID-19.
“We just want to go out there and play ball,” Abraham said Wednesday via Zoom following USM’s opening preseason practice.
“We’ll do whatever we have to do to halt the spread of this and keep us safe so we can get out there.”
The Golden Eagles had not been on a practice field together since their preparations in Fort Worth, Texas, in January for the Armed Forces Bowl.
The coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring practice and most player interaction until the university cleared the players to return to campus for voluntary workouts at the beginning of June.
“I have seen worse first days.” USM football coach Jay Hopson said via Zoom. “For the first day of practice and all the conditions they’ve had to deal with, I was pleased.
“It’s the first time we’ve been on the field in like (eight) months, and for the first day, I thought there was good energy, plyers running around good. I was pleased.”
USM’s signing class, which featured a bevy of junior college transfers, lost the advantage of going through spring practice.
But Hopson said a number of them caught his eye during the first day, including running back Don Ragsdale, receivers Jason Brownlee and Tyler Kennedy, defensive backs Eric Scott, Cam Harrell and Natrone Brooks, linebacker Avery Habas and defensive end Dominic Quewon.
Also catching notice was safety Josh Perry, a University of Memphis graduate transfer.
“You’re going to see a lot of these guys on the field this year,” Hopson said.
Hopson said the normal summer practice routine had been tweaked to make up for lost time, and Abraham said players had to adjust to protocols put in place to minimize any impact from the coronavirus.
“Really, it wasn’t all that different,” Abraham said. “We’re in a unique situation, and it’s been tough.
“But we want to get out there and play some ball. We’ve been sitting around, waiting a long time, and we just want to play.”
While some conferences and schools have cancelled fall competition and others revised schedules and starting dates, USM is preparing as if its home opener on Sept. 5 against the University of South Alabama will come off.
The Golden Eagles have seen a 12-game schedule snipped to 10 contests. USM lost a Sept. 19 home game with Jackson State University when the Southwestern Athletic Conference cancelled all fall sports.
USM lost a Sept. 26 game at Auburn University when the Southeastern Conference announced its members would play a conference-only schedule.
“I know from my standpoint, and I think I can speak for a lot of guys on this team, we don’t care who we play,” Abraham said. “We’ll line up against whoever. We don’t care. We just want to play some ball.”