BY DENNIS SILVA II | DENSILVA2@GMAIL.COM
Very weird. Depressing. Tired. Tough. Relief.
Former Katy High star and Wisconsin senior defensive back Collin Wilder ran through a gauntlet of emotions Tuesday evening after it was learned Big 10 conference presidents had voted to postpone the fall 2020 college football season due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
The hope is to play in the spring.
The Pac-12 conference also postponed its football season to the spring not long after the Big 10 made its announcement on Tuesday. For now, the Big 12, ACC and SEC intend to play as scheduled.
Big 10 commissioner Kevin Warren said there was too much uncertainty for the conference to go forward, adding that the virus is spreading at an alarming rate and there are also uncertainties from a medical standpoint.
“It’s very weird times,” Wilder said during a phone interview Tuesday night. “It’s very hard to comprehend everything that’s happened. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was very depressing. Guys were tired, with all the speculation and trying to practice for a season.”
Despite rampant tweets from various outlets on social media Sunday night that reported the postponement was all but a formality, Wilder said he waited on official word from coaches and university staff. However, something was up.
A 9 p.m. virtual team meeting to discuss updates on Sunday night was canceled. On Monday, as Wisconsin started fall preseason camp, another team meeting was canceled.
Finally, after Tuesday’s morning practice, a mass text message was sent to players confirming the fall season was canceled. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst talked more about the news during a team meeting at 3 p.m.
“There’s not much of a plan from here, which is tough,” Wilder said. “You’re planning for fall camp and playing to have a season and you don’t plan for things to get canceled. So, we’re told we’ll be given some time off and once school starts in a couple of weeks we’ll regroup.”
Players were permitted to go home, but Wilder said he will stay on campus.
“It just doesn’t feel right for me to be home when I’m supposed to be playing football,” he said.
Still, noting that it was a relief that a decision was made at all, Wilder said he understood the reasoning behind the postponement.
“From what our coaches say, the biggest key was medical experts figuring out that this virus can inflame your heart (known as myocarditis),” Wilder said. “There were several positive cases in the Big 10 of players who had an inflamed heart, and no life is more important than a season. I get that. I just wish this information could have been discovered earlier to where we could’ve maybe figured out how long it lasts, how severe it is, how we can solve it. I’m not mad at the Big 10 for postponing. It was just handled so inconsistently that it negatively affected a lot of people, a lot of coaches and a lot of players.”
Wilder and his teammates have been on campus since late June. They were tested for COVID-19 once a week before this week, when the start of fall camp allowed testing twice a week. Wilder said there were a couple of positive cases, but “it didn’t affect anything. Everything was handled well.”
Wilder commended Wisconsin’s strength and conditioning and training staffs for keeping everyone safe and protected.
Players who tested positive were quarantined for two weeks and not allowed back on the field until testing negative. Whoever else came in contact with anyone who tested positive was also quarantined.
Every quarterback had a football assigned to him for which to throw. Once it was caught by a receiver, the ball was handed off to a ball boy who sanitized it with a towel before returning it to the quarterback. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Plastic water bottles, instead of the normal squirt bottles, were assigned to players to use in their own specific cubbies on the practice field. They were not allowed to drink from anything else.
Players had to wipe down any and all equipment used in the weight room. Each weight rack had a spray bottle for disinfecting and was used one player at a time. Players lifted weights while wearing masks. They had to be five yards apart during conditioning drills.
Players had only started using the locker rooms this week because of fall camp. Four practice groups were divided into sessions, two groups in the morning and the other two in the afternoon, so that one case would not affect the entire team.
“We were able to eventually get to contact football because of all the rules we abided to before,” Wilder said. “Overall, guys didn’t want to be that guy that gave their team COVID-19. Every test was a competition. I would get nervous when some guys got results earlier than I did.”
Wilder said he believes players are safer on campus than away from it because of the protocols, testing and only socializing with teammates and coaches who are going through the same regulations. However, now that the season is postponed, he wonders if that accountability is in jeopardy.
“Guys had a structure and had to be disciplined, or you couldn’t play for two weeks,” he said. “Now that we don’t have a season … I still hope we can hold each other accountable, but there’s not as much at stake anymore since we’re not playing. Guys were doing everything they can to make sure they didn’t get the virus. Now? Some guys might feel like it doesn’t matter anymore, which I can’t blame them.”
Wilder, a 5-10 safety who totaled 19 tackles with an interception, sack and seven passes defensed last season, said he “absolutely” intends to play in the NFL.
“That’s the dream,” he said.
And while a spring college football season could conflict with the timing of preparation for the NFL Draft for some players, particularly those expected to be high draft picks, it won’t be for Wilder.
“It depends on your draft stock,” Wilder said. “If it’s high, I don’t blame guys not risking the spring season to get injured and instead going and training and making sure you’re in the best shape possible for whichever team drafts you. For me, personally, I don’t think I have enough film to be in that position yet. It’s been a heck of a college ride; last year was my first of getting to actually play. I need another year to put more film out there. For me, I’m going to play. But for (Clemson star quarterback) Trevor Lawrence or (Ohio State star quarterback) Justin Fields, guys like that, I totally understand if they leave to prepare for the draft. There’s a lot of money and your dreams at stake.”
Wilder said he will take a week to reflect and come to terms with the Big 10’s decision to postpone. He will review film, seeing what was comfortable and what wasn’t during the two days of practice. His footwork has improved during the offseason, and he plans to be physically ready for the NFL Scouting Combine and Wisconsin’s Pro Day, which typically take place in the spring.
For now, the wait to take the field will last at least a few more months. And his optimism now lies in hoping his former coaches at Katy High get an opportunity to take the field at some point this fall.
“A lot of my high school coaches believe they should play, and I can see their side,” Wilder said. “But the amount of money and effort and resources that we had to put in to contain this thing … I don’t know if every high school has that. There were guys on our team that, whoever got it, didn’t have symptoms. They only found out because they were tested. Well, are you going to test every single player in high school? Do you have the money for that? I don’t know. I bet most high schools don’t have the money to test their players every single week. Guys can be carrying this thing without even knowing, and all it takes is one person. I don’t think that’s worth it.
“It will take a lot for them to be able to contain this virus in high school sports. Even in college, it was tough, even with all the resources we had.”