Hens learn to work out with new protocols

Smyrna High grad Will Knight (right) and Delaware football teammate Isaiah Schoonmaker arrive for a workout in Newark last week. Delaware sports information photos

NEWARK — Nolan Henderson says he’s a pretty curious person by nature.

So the Delaware quarterback has done his share of reading about how college football programs across the country are coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean the Smyrna High grad thinks he’s completely on top of it — not in a situation that seems to be constantly evolving.

“It seems like weekly, or even daily, there’s something different or a new protocol,” said Henderson. “I don’t know, it changes so quickly. We’re just trying to stay on top of it, stay safe and do our part.”

With that in mind, Henderson is one of just under 50 University of Delaware student-athletes who have been back on campus taking part in voluntary, off-season workouts since last week. The group includes athletes from football, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s soccer and volleyball.

Right now, they seem to be the only college athletes in the state who have been allowed back on campus for conditioning. Delaware State and Wesley College haven’t announced any such plans yet.

The Blue Hens are working under the supervision of UD’s medical/training staff.

They were all tested for the virus before they were allowed back. They have their temperature taken when they arrive for workouts and are monitored for any symptoms.

The athletes wear masks when they’re inside in the weight room and keep socially distant when they’re outside. The weight room equipment is wiped down before the next group comes in.

Blue Hens’ women’s basketball player Ty Battle has her temperature taken before a workout last week.

With college football programs around the country reporting players testing positive for COVID-19 — Clemson alone had 23 cases — the players said the Hens know it’s in their own best interest to follow the rules.

“It makes you really think about how you need to be careful,” said Henderson. “The more positive cases we get, the more unlikely the season’s going to come about. We’re staying respectful of everybody and trying not to put ourselves in position where we can get it and spread it.

“In our situation, with all these players here, if one or two of us get it and we don’t say anything, it can really spread and put our season in jeopardy.”

“Outside of just being in the weight room and on the field, we try to take it upon ourselves to make sure we’re doing the right thing to make sure everybody’s safe,” said junior defensive back Kedrick Whitehead, the Middletown High grad.

“It’s not only on our team but in the building in general. We know if one of us contracts the virus and brings it into the building, that puts a lot of other people’s lives at risk.”

Kedrick Whitehead

The UD student-athletes are not staying in campus housing but live in the vicinity of Newark.

In a statement released last week, UD officials say they hope this is just the first group of athletes returning to campus this summer.
The press release read, “We have worked tirelessly over the past few months with state and University health officials, as well as University partners on the best possible path to a return to campus and a return to athletic activities.”

“A successful first wave of students will allow us to hopefully welcome more waves of student-athletes as we move through the next few months,” the statement concluded.

Henderson said there about 27 football players taking part in on-campus conditioning, each working out in groups of nine. The players said they’ve gotten used to the routine of following protocols.

“Slowly but surely,” said Whitehead. “I’m trying to get used to wearing a mask while lifting. It’s kind of hard, I can’t lie. But we’re figuring it out.”

“It was a little weird at first,” said Henderson. “A check-in table for workouts is not typical. But it’s become second nature at this point, we’ve done it enough.

“It’s definitely tougher to lift with a mask on but we can at least take them off during conditioning when we really need to be breathing. It’s been pretty good.”

As for the workouts themselves, Henderson said he and his teammates have been pleasantly surprised by their level of conditioning.
Most of them have been on their own since mid-March. The pandemic shutdown came just as Delaware started spring football practice.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to lift as much or not be able to go as high of intensity,” said Henderson. “I don’t feel I’m at my peak strength but I feel pretty close. And I think it will only get better.

“I see a lot of the guys I work with are putting up some pretty big numbers. We’re kind of surprising even ourselves with how much we haven’t lost. … Each and every day we’re improving and getting back into that shape that we were in when we left.”

“I know that, once everybody comes back, we’ll be even stronger,” said Whitehead. “And we’ll just keep getting better, keep getting stronger as the days go on.”