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Gratitude Is The Attitude

Oct 10, 2020
Head coach Justin Wilcox takes in Cal's first team practice prior to the team's delayed 2020 season.

BERKELEY – Cal conducted football practice Friday at California Memorial Stadium, taking the field with a group of more than 25 for a team workout for the first time since March when the COVID-19 pandemic ended spring ball prematurely after four sessions.

After the workout, head coach Justin Wilcox said, "It was summed up best when we were running out there and got into our first 7-on-7. Nikko [Remigio] turned around, came up to me and said 'this is the most normal I've felt all year,' and I said 'me, too.' That's just what it felt like. We were able to be out there coaching and practicing, playing football. It was energetic. Everybody had a smile on their face. There's so much that's gone on and just to have the chance to go back out and play, it was a special day. There was incredible excitement to be back out there from players, coaches and everybody … it was the most fun a lot of us have had in a long, long time."

Wilcox and arguably most of the world have not had much fun during the pandemic but when asked he was able to find a silver lining.

"I think all of us, as soon as we stepped out there today, had an even greater appreciation for what we get to do," Wilcox said. "Sometimes it takes not having something, so being able to go back on the field and coach the players, and the players getting to go out and work on their craft and be around each other, that's a big part of this."

Practicing within state and local heath guidelines, much looked different than before the pandemic, such as a cohort limit of 75 student-athletes. The Bears split into two sessions, first with a group of 75, followed by a developmental session for the remainder of the team. Anyone not engaging in high-intensity workouts or drills wore a mask, and no spectators were present at what are typically open practices early on in training camp.

Senior safety Elijah Hicks, though, struggled to express what he found different from his perspective.

"I'm locked in on what I do," Hicks said before finally thinking of something. "The water was probably the biggest thing. We didn't have people giving us the water. We had to go on the side where it was safe and six feet apart to grab our water."

Many people worked long hours to plan how to execute the practice, and Hicks was one of several Bears to quickly acknowledge the effort.

"As a team, we were just happy to be back on the field and be able to do it safely," said Hicks, who had an interception off a tipped pass during a 7-on-7 drill. "Our medical staff, our strength coaches and everybody has done a great job of keeping us safe with the protocols and the testing that's going on. We feel safe out there playing, and I'm just happy to be out there."

"It takes everyone associated with Cal football to make this day possible from trainers to nutritionists, athletic performance, equipment, coaches, support staff from both football and so many other areas of athletics that I could go on and on about," said Senior Associate Athletics Director for Performance, Health & Welfare Ryan Cobb. "They are the unsung heroes supporting the testing operation, taking temperatures, monitoring gates and cleaning equipment seven days a week. These are staff that you will not see on the field, but are working each day to get the team and staff ready and help make this the safest environment possible for our student-athletes and staff." 

Still, everything is not perfect.

"You're getting a nose swab every day," senior offensive lineman Michael Saffell said with his signature smile and sense of humor. "That's not the best way to start your day off. That's not the way we like to do it, but I guess that's the new normal."

There were a few old normal items back on the practice plan Friday for the first time since March like a team warm-up, huddles and 11-on-11 drills. But Wilcox realizes how important it is to stay nimble, flexible and think outside the box in regards to the team's preparation for a delayed 2020 season.

"The one thing we've come to expect is that things aren't going to go according to plan and adjustments are going to have to be made along the way, whether it's tomorrow, next week or in two weeks," Wilcox said. "We have to approach those with the right attitude and understand going in that it's probably not going to go according to plan. But we've got the right type of guys and right type of people in our program to do that."

Cal opens the season against Washington on Nov. 7 at California Memorial Stadium, with the kickoff time and television network to be announced either 12 or six days in advance. Under state and Pac-12 protocols, fans are not allowed to attend in person.